On a Presentable Brown Hat

Malinowski, Plus HatPaul Johnson has riotous fun in his book, Intellectuals, detailing the infidelities, deceits and cruelty of a gaggle of progressive intellectuals, who surprise nobody by spectacularly failing to live up to the utopian ideals of their great visions. However, despite the excoriating character of his critique, he notes that he always tries to find something good in his subjects, perhaps an admirable character trait or a selfless deed happily performed (failing only in the case of Bertolt Brecht, who is, apparently, "without a sole redeeming feature").

In this spirit, and as a counterpoint to Friday's tale of Bertrand Russell's first marriage, here's an exchange of letters between Russell and the anthropologist, Bronislaw Malinowski, which shows them both in charming and humorous form.

Dear Russell

On the occasion of my visit to your School I left my only presentable brown hat in your anteroom. I wonder whether since then it has had the privilege of enclosing the only brains in England which I ungrudgingly regard better than mine; or whether it has been utilised in some of the juvenile experimentations in physics, technology, dramatic art, or prehistoric symbolism; or whether it naturally lapsed out of the anteroom.

If none of these events, or shall we rather call them hypotheses, holds good or took place, could you be so good as to bring it in a brown paper parcel or by some other concealed mode of transport to London and advise me on a post card where I could reclaim it? I am very sorry that my absentmindedness, which is characteristic of high intelligence, has exposed you to all the inconvenience incidental to the event.

Yours sincerely, B. Malinowski

Bertrand Russell replied as follows:

My secretary has found a presentable brown hat in my lobby which I presume is yours, indeed the mere sight of it reminds me of you. I am going to the School of Economics to give a lecture to the Students’ Union on Monday (17th), and unless my memory is as bad and my intelligence as good as yours, I will leave your hat with the porter at the School of Economics, telling him to give it to you on demand.

Yours sincerely, Bertrand Russell

(Sources: Paul Johnson, Intellectuals; Bertrand Russell, Russell: An Autobiography).

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