[For any one whom it may interest]
There never was such a place as prison for crowding images — one after another they come upon me — early morning in the Alps, with the smell of aromatic pines and high pastures glistening with dew — the lake of Garda2 as one first sees it coming down out of the mountains, just a glimpse, far far below, dancing and gleaming in the sunlight like the eyes of a laughing mad Spanish gypsy — thunderstorm in the Mediterranean, with a dark violet sea, and the mountains of Corsica in sunshine far beyond — the Scilly Isles in the setting sun, enchanted and unreal, so that you think they must have vanished before you can reach them, looking like the Islands of the Blest, not to be achieved during this mortal life3 — the smell of the bog myrtle in Skye — memories of sunsets long ago, all the way back into childhood. I can hear now as if it were yesterday the street-cry of a man in Paris selling “artichaux verts et beaux”, 24 years ago4 almost to a day. Quite from childhood I remember a certain row of larches after rain, with a rain drop at the end of every twig. And I can hear the wind in the tree-tops in midnight woods on summer nights. Everything free or beautiful comes into my thoughts sooner or later. What is the use of shutting up the body, seeing that the mind remains free? And outside my own life, I have lived, while I have been here, in Brazil and China and Tibet,5 in the French Revolution, in the souls of animals and even of the lowest animals.6 In such adventures I have forgotten the prison in which the world is keeping itself at the moment: I am free, and the world shall be.7
[document] The letter was edited from the unsigned, single-sheet original in BR’s hand in the Malleson papers in the Russell Archives. The sheet was folded four times. The letter was published in BR’s Autobiography, 2: 93–4, and as 102 in Papers 14.
lake of Garda BR had long rhapsodized over Lake Garda, in northern Italy, known for its crystal-clear water. He told Ottoline in 1911: “How lovely the journey is from Verona to Milan — the lake of Garda, and the campaniles in the plain” (14 Oct. 1911, BRACERS 17304); and next day, “No, I don’t like lakes, except Garda, which I love” (BRACERS 17306). It was there he met Liese von Hattingberg in August 1913, with whom he had an affair in Rome later that year (Auto. 1: 206).
Islands of the Blest … this mortal life The three legendary Islands of the Blest (or Fortunate Isles), located at the heart of Elysium, were an earthly paradise reserved for the bravest and most virtuous heroes of Greek mythology.
man in Paris selling “artichaux verts et beaux”, 24 years ago BR recalled the three months he spent in Paris in the fall of 1894 as an honorary attaché at the British Embassy.
animals BR’s prison reading included studies of animal behaviour. While there he read Margaret Floy Washburn, The Animal Mind: a Text-Book of Comparative Psychology (1908); see Papers 8: App. III, “Philosophical Books Read in Prison”.
I am free, and the world shall be Alan Wood termed this letter “one of the finest testaments to the freedom of the human spirit” (Bertrand Russell: the Passionate Sceptic [London: Allen & Unwin, 1957], p. 116).