Style and Thought. An unsigned review of Mysticism and Logic and Other Essays, by Bertrand Russell
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690 ] Style and Thought An unsigned review of Mysticism and Logic and Other Essays, by Bertrand Russell (London: Longmans, Green, 1918). Pp. vii + 234.1 The Nation, 22 (23 Mar 1918), 768, 770 Mr. Russell’s latest volume, though not containing any hitherto unedited matter, is one of the most important that he has published. Containing two papers from Philosophical Essays, it supersedes that book, now out of print; and if we except the Principia, this and the Leibniz (which ought to be reprinted) are the essential books to possess. The Problems is too controversial to show Mr. Russell’s own philosophy at its best; the Knowledge of the External World is at the disadvantage of having been prepared as a set of lectures, and is partly covered by several of the essays in the present book.2 The essays in Mysticism and Logic belong to various years between 1901 and 1915; they represent at least three different styles; and the last six of the ten essays provide the best possible introduction to Mr. Russell’s philosophy. The essay “Mathematics and the Metaphysicians” [1901] is a wonderfully lucid introduction to the logical point of view; the essays on “The Ultimate Constituents of Matter” [1915], “The Relation of Sense-Data to Physics” [1914],“OntheNotionofCause”[1912],and“KnowledgebyAcquaintance and Knowledge by Description” [1910] taken together mark Mr. Russell’s logical-philosophical point of view. It is impossible to give oneself over to a judgment of any philosopher based purely on his prose, in the narrower sense of the word “style,” yet a good deal of light may often be thrown on a philosopher by holding his work up to the standards of literature. For literary standards help us to perceive just those moments when a writer is scrupulously and sincerely attending to his vision, help us to dissociate the social and the histrionic from the unique. The present volume offers a particularly interesting exercise of this sort. Some of the essays are austerely technical; one is devoted to a defence of scientific education; and one contains a celebrated exposition of Mr. Russell’s theology. The point is, where is Mr. Russell’s insight, his peculiar vision, to be found; is it equally present everywhere? For where that is, [ 691 Style and Thought there will the style be; and where the style does not convince, the vision will be lacking. Dull critics, usually of an idealistic turn, have remarked that Mr. Russell’s empiricism is merely a more exact development of Mill’s.3 This observation misses precisely what makes all the difference. But there is another side on which Mr. Russell has close affinities with the generation of Mill; with George Eliot walking in the garden and denying God while she affirmed the Moral Law with fuliginous solemnity.4 Like these, Mr. Russell is an emancipated Puritan; a little more emancipated, for he is of a later time, but like them, he takes his emancipation seriously. We know the passage as well as the conclusion to the Studies in the Renaissance: Brief and powerless is man’s life . . . It is quite as good prose as Pater’s, but it is not Mr. Russell’s best prose.5 It presents a mood which could be made poignant in one of only two ways. We might be allowed to guess the sadness between the lines of a plain statement of philosophic creed; or we might realize it through the plain statement of the tragedy of a particular individual man or woman; but in either Spinoza or Homer, what we have is statement. The possibilities of lyricism are limited. Mr. Russell’s Man, the unglücksel’ger Atlas staggering beneath the probability of the collapse of the solar system, is a descendant of Man Conceived in Sin.6 Elsewhere Mr. Russell has made us feel “the passionate splendour” of Time and Fate and Death; here he has merely told us about it.7 Mr. Russell’s vision is not here; nor is it in “The Place of Science in a Liberal Education,” where he is obviously spoiling his razor on blocks that ought to be left to the duller blades of the Times Educational Supplement. Incidentally he says some fine things, as this: “In science, the man of real genius is the man who invents a new method” [41]. We could wish that he had left the remark, “a life devoted to science is therefore a happy life” [45], to be written by someone else...