Evelyn Whitehead was the wife of Russell’s Cambridge mentor and colleague, Alfred North Whitehead (see his letter to Russell). By the time of her letter of August 4, 1914, the Whiteheads had known Russell for over 20 years. In the letter, Evelyn expresses concern about the approaching conflict that would become known as the First World War: “Bertie, my soul is sick with anguish.” (The Whitehead’s sons, North and Eric—on whom Russell doted when they were children—would end up fighting in the war; Eric was killed shortly before armistice). Evelyn also states her assumption that Britain would be involved: “if Germany is really the aggressor in all this I do not see how we can keep out of it.” Her view of Britain's role in the War was, of course, in opposition to Russell’s pacifist stance. Their difference of opinion is ironic since it was an experience with Evelyn that Russell credited with leading him to pacifism in the first place.
In 1901, Russell and his wife, Alys, spent an academic term living with the Whiteheads. One day he and Alys came home to find Evelyn in severe physical pain. In his Autobiography, Russell describes a profound experience: “She seemed cut off from everyone and everything by walls of agony, and the sense of the solitude of each human soul suddenly overwhelmed me. … Suddenly the ground seemed to give way beneath me, and I found myself in quite another region. Within five minutes I went through some such reflections as the following: the loneliness of the human soul is unendurable; nothing can penetrate it except the highest intensity of the sort of love that religious teachers have preached; whatever does not spring from this motive is harmful, or at best useless; it follows that war is wrong, … that the use of force is to be deprecated, and that in human relations one should penetrate to the core of loneliness in each person and speak to that.”
Evelyn recovered, but the experience had a lasting effect on Russell. He wrote: “something of what I thought I saw in that moment has remained always with me, causing my attitude during the first war, my interest in children, my indifference to minor misfortunes, and a certain emotional tone in all my human relations.” Russell’s political views were so transformed that he went from zealously supporting Britain in the 'Boer War' to advocating peace, and his emotional life was so transformed that within a year of the experience he told Alys he no longer loved her. In fact, it is now widely assumed that he had fallen in love with Evelyn, though there is no evidence that the two ever had an affair. In the dozen or so years leading up to the First World War, during which time Russell and Alfred were collaborating on Principia Mathematica, Russell and Evelyn developed a close emotional intimacy. Russell supported the Whiteheads financially without Alfred ever knowing, and when Russell’s affair with Ottoline Morrell began in 1911, he turned to Evelyn for support and even arranged for Ottoline to meet her for advice.
Evelyn relished her role in Russell’s life and may not always have had his best interests at heart. However, there was real affection there, too, as is evident in the letter displayed here. The letter also contains an amusing anecdote. Evelyn describes “an interesting talk” she had had the day before with Gertrude Stein. Stein expresses an opinion about a quarrel between Ottoline Morrell and Roger Fry, a friend of Russell’s from their student days. Stein sides with Ottoline. On a typescript copy of Evelyn’s letter (also found in the Russell archives), Russell added a note: “Roger & Ottoline had a quarrel, but I never knew what it was about.” In fact, Fry and Ottoline had had a brief affair just as Russell and Ottoline were becoming lovers, and Fry was worried that his new love interest, Vanessa Bell, would find out about it. The lives of Russell and his circle were never boring.
There are approximately 30 letters from Evelyn Whitehead to Russell in the Russell archives. Unfortunately, Evelyn destroyed all of Russell’s letters to her.
Sources: (1) Bertrand Russell. The Autobiography of Bertrand Russell, 1872-1914 (Volume I). London: George Allen and Unwin Ltd., 1967. (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: The Private Years, 1884-1914. London and New York: Routledge, 2002.
Aug. 4. 1914.
Do come, we feel as you do that all we care for is being trampled on. If Germany is really the aggressor in all this I do not see how we can keep out of it, if she respects no neutralities, no treaties, we must protest & then I fear war follows. In this Hohenzollern mood, Germany is a greater menace to Europe than Russia, and we cannot sit still & see France smashed – I wish you were here –
I had an interesting talk with Miss Stein yesterday. She had been told Roger’s side of the quarrel with O. & she said “of course I don’t believe it that woman is not out for meanness, I think her simple & good & I told them so, I trust my instinct, no one who is not a fool w[oul]d believe Roger.” Three cheers for Stein whom I am much liking – Bertie, my soul is sick with anguish.
Love from us all---
Julia & Vera K. are here. J. is for peace at any price – from the prudential point of view I fear that if we keep aloof & view the hatred of Europe Germany will take her chance here, what do you think? I feel I must confess that I think the annihilation of France more terrible still – do write and tell me how you see it all.
 The royal house of Hohenzollern presided in Germany until after the First World War.
 On a typescript copy of this letter, also found in the Russell archives (Box 5.54, Document 057513), Russell identified ‘Miss Stein’ as Gertrude Stein.
 On the same typescript, Russell identified Roger Fry and Ottoline Morrell.
 Identified by Russell as the sisters Julia and Vera Kennedy, acquaintances of the Whiteheads.