Bertrand Russell & Albert Barnes

By the beginning of World War I, Russell’s political convictions & social behavior were attracting at least as much attention as his work in mathematics & philosophy.  His pacifist beliefs during the war cost him his position at Trinity College, Cambridge.  He had two failed marriages, with accompanying affairs that hurt his social standing.  And his ideas regarding the institution of marriage – he was an advocate of free love – made it difficult to find work as a teacher or lecturer.

In 1938, with war threatening in Europe, Russell left England for the United States with his third wife, Patricia, who was about 30 years his junior, & their infant son, Conrad,  He eventually found a position teaching at the City University of NY, but was dismissed in 1940 because of his controversial views.  Knowing that Russell desperately needed a job, Harvard pragmatist, John Dewey asked his good friend Albert C. Barnes if he might be able to employ him.  It was while teaching at The Barnes Foundation that Dewey wrote most of his Art as Experience (1934), which he dedicated “To Albert C. Barnes, in gratitude.”  Barnes offered Russell a 5-year contract ($8,000 yearly) with “no restrictions” to give lectures on the history of Western philosophy to his factory workers & other students.

Patriarchal Barnes chose a house for Russell & his wife, arranged its furnishings & offered free advice on the care of their five-year-old son.  Mrs. Russell wrote Barnes a polite note inviting him to mind his own business.  Instead, Russell & his family rented Little Datchet Farm in West Pikeland Township in Chester County. From this location, Russell was able to take the train or be driven by his wife (he did not drive) the 25 miles to Marion Station & the Barnes Foundation.

Barnes & his wife Laura then purchased an 18th century estate in the same township & named it “Ker-Feal,” Breton for “House of Fidèle,” after their favorite dog which Barnes brought home from Brittany during an art-buying trip to France. [Barnes was driving back to the Foundation in Merion from Ker-Feal when he ran a stop sign & was killed almost instantly by a tractor-trailer on July 24, 1951].

Though Russell, a British earl, disliked his title, his wife insisted on being called “Lady Russell,” which infuriated the working-class-born [Kensington, Phila.] Barnes.  It was only a matter of time when Bertrand & Albert, both irascible, dominating, eccentric & curmudgeonly personalities, would have their falling out.

When Russell didn’t show up for his regular lecture one day in 1943, it was the chance for which  Barnes had been waiting.  The trustees of the Barnes Foundation immediately announced that “Mr. Bertrand Russell has discontinued his lectures” & that the contract was broken. After being fired, Russell sued Barnes for the remainder of the money the philosopher was to receive through 1945, and won.  Ironically, the lectures he did deliver were eventually published [as The History of Western Philosophy], once the Russells were reestablished back in Cambridge, & the proceeds essentially supported him financially for the rest of his long life.

caricature by Andrew David

Dan Ellis-Killian

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  • OK  On September 17, 2011 at 11:05 am

    The cartoon of Bertrand Russell by Andrew Davids (?) is creative commons?

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