More On Loving Bertrand Russell

“I feel I must be honest & just say once…that I am utterly devoted to thee, & have been for over 50 years. My friends have always known that I loved thee more than anyone else in the world, & they now rejoice with me that I am now able to see thee again.”—Alys Pearsall Smith

A previous Quirkality article told the heartbreaking story of Alys Pearsall Smith’s lifelong love for Bertrand Russell.

Russell and Alys

Russell had married Alys at the end of 1894, he fell out of love with her, while on a bicyle ride, in 1901, and finally left her, in order to pursue an affair with Ottoline Morrell, in 1911. In August 1926, Russell’s Aunt Agatha – his mother’s sister – wrote the following letter to Russell, now married to his second wife, Dora, after he had complained about a picture of Alys his aunt had up on her mantelpiece.

You owe her everything since the separation. But for her, Dora would be Miss Black, and your children illegitimate – the slightest spark of gratitude in you would acknowledge what you owe to her since you left her, in so many ways that I cannot write of. Her conduct has been noble since the separation – I am very far from being the only one who thinks this…

It would have been more manly and chivalrous of you to write me not to withdraw friendship from the woman you brought into the family, the woman you once loved and had forsaken, though her love was unchanged… You now in these later times always speak of “pain to me”, “giving me pain”, etc. – Do you ever think of Alys’s suffering – from her love for you… Yet she always speaks beautifully of you, wishing only for your happiness. Do not imagine for a moment that I ever forget, and did not feel most acutely, your own unhappiness… but to those who truly loved you, it is heart-breaking that you have not grown nobler, stronger, more loving and tender through suffering, but in every way the reverse.

Russell’s biographer, Ray Monk, notes that while Alys remained helplessly in love with Russell, following his public activities closely, and keeping a scrapbook of cuttings about him, Russell for his part scarcely gave her a thought. As for Aunt Agatha, Dora dismissed her as a “malicious old lady”, Russell’s brother Frank labelled her an “acid old spinster” and Russell, the great humanist philosopher, hardly noticed her at all.

(Source: Ray Monk, Bertrand Russell: The Ghost of Madness)

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