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119 G. E. MOORE AND THE BLOOMSBURY GROUP By Donald J. Watt (State University College of New York, Geneseo) Mrs. Sidney Webb once said to me: "I have known most of the distinguished men of my time, but I have never yet met a great man." I had admiration and affection for Beatrice Webb, but when, In her cold and beautiful voice, she pronounced one of these inexorable Sinalc Judgments ... I used to feel that in one moment I should be submerged in despair and desolation, that I was a miserable fly crawling painfully up the Webbs' window to be swotted, long before I reached the top, by their merciless commonsense . But sometimes the fly gave a dying kick, and on this occasion, I said: "I suppose you don't know G. E. Moore." No, she said, she did not know G. E. Moore, though she knew, of course, whom I meant, and the questIon of human greatness having been settled, we passed to another question. . . George [Edward] Moore was a great man, the only great man whom I have ever met or known In the world of ordinary, real life. - Leonard Woolf, Sowing; An Autobiography of the Years 1880 to 1904. Leonard Woolf's recollection of his encounter with Mrs. Webb, recorded almost sixty years after his introduction to G. E. Moore, signifies the often unqualified admiration of several members of the original Bloomsbury Group for Moore's mind and personality. The characteristics of Moore's personality and the Implications of some of the thoughts expressed In his Principia Ethica (1903) generated a vital excitement within a large segment of the Group because they seemed to provide philosophical strength for Bloomsbury's most seminal convictions. Today, the figure and Intellect of G. E. Moore offer a significant clue to the beliefs of some of Bloomsbury's more important and influential writers. I shall try to describe Moore's effect on the Bloomsbury Group by examining his personal and intellectual impact on a selection of its members.1 To begin with, Leonard Woolf's portrait of Moore conveys tellingly the sincerity and Intensity of that personality which so deeply impressed the Bloomsbury circle. Woolf calls Moore's mind "Socratic," noting that Moore's simplicity and integrity were attractive to the young men of Cambridge in a way similar to that in which the young Athenians were drawn to Socrates: "Plato in the Symposium shows us a kind of cosmic absurdity in the monumental simplicity of Socrates; and such different people as Alcibiades, Aristophanes, and Agathon 'rag' him about it and laugh at him 120 gently and affectionately. There was the same kind of divine absurdity in Moore."2 Nonetheless, Moore had a pure and intense passion for truth which could alarm a new colleague. Woolf relates the tension he experienced in Moore's presence in the early weeks of their friendship: When I first got to know him, the immensely high standards of thought and conduct which he seemed silently to demand of an intimate, the feeling that one should not say anything unless the thing was both true and worth saying . . . tinged one's wish to see him with some anxiety, and I know that standing at the door of his room, before knocking and going in, I often took a deep breath Just as one does on a cool day before one dives into the cold green sea. For a young man it was a formidable, an alarming experience, but like the plunge into the cold sea, once one had nerved oneself to take it, extraordinarily exhilarating. Woolf concedes that the tension relaxed under the influence of time, intimacy and affection, but he claims that the fact that it never entirely disappeared was, perhaps, a proof of that greatness which distinguished Moore from other people. Woolf goes on to point out that Moore displayed the same intensity and understanding in singing a Beethoven melody as in discussing a philosophical issue: "He played the Waldstein sonata or sang 'Ich grolle nicht' with the same passion with which he pursued truth; when the last note died away, he would sit absolutely still, his hands resting on the keys, and the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1559-2715
Print ISSN
0013-8339
Pages
pp. 119-134
Launched on MUSE
2010-05-21
Open Access
No
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