Saturday, September 18, 2010

Russell as a Prose Writer

Bertrand Russell is by all respects, a productive prose writer, who wrote abundantly. He is the prominent writer of present century who wrote on a variety of subjects of human interest, with great zeal and zest. He expressed his acumen and writing power in a forceful and logical style. He wrote almost on everything and there was hardly a human problem, which remained untouched by him.

Basically he was a mathematician and his grand, epoch-making contribution to his subject was published in three volumes. Principa Mathematica in collaboration with professor Whitehaed, which is verily a landmark in the history of mathematics. His scientific and mathematical skill together endowed him with approach to speak and write with perfect proficiency.
The fineness and beauty of his style depends mainly on clarity of his thoughts. There is no confusion or complexity. A rich coffer of knowledge made him upright and honest in his opinions.
Whenever Russell takes to writing on a subject, he adopts a systematic way for a successful production. About his own method of writing, he says:
“If I were to write upon some rather difficult topic, the best plan is to think about is with very great interest------ the great intensity of which I am capable----- for a few hours or days, and at the end of that time give orders, so to speak, that the work is to proceed under ground. After some months, I return consciously to the topic and find that the work has been done. Before I had discovered this technique, I used to spend the intervening months worrying because I was making no progress, I arrived at the solution none the sooner for this worry and the intervening months were wasted, whereas now I can devote to other pursuits.
(The Conquest of Happiness, page 50).
The above-mentioned reference indicates that Russell was convinced of clarity of thought and fluency of expression. His thoughts were always clear and his style always chaste, transparent and lucid. The clarity of thought and neatness of expression were the two things, out of which, he developed a charming style, which left indelible imprints on the reader’s mind.
Unity of Thoughts
The second salient feature of Russell’s style is the unity of thought. The discipline of logic and mathematics taught him the principle of unity of thought. Like a mathematical premise, his arguments start from a well-affirmed basic assumption and then he proceeds step by step to the logical conclusion of his arguments. A fine coherence exists in his arguments. Each argument is related to the preceding one like the anxious of Euclid. So the conclusion drawn is the logical outcome of his arguments.
The Exact Use of Words
Russell’s ideal scientific inclination enables him to make an exact and perfect use of words. He uses words, which are rich, pure, clear and transparent. There is no ambiguity or obscurity. If some ambiguity occurs somewhere he clarifies it in the following sentences. He avoids excessive use of words. He words are small in number but rich in meaning. He avoids empty rhetoric, and produces a charm of writing with modest use of words.
Long Sentences
Russell usually uses lengthy and elaborate sentences to maintain his unity of thought. He is fully aware of this aspect of his style and therefore does not let the length of sentence harm the fluency of writing. From beginning to the end, his thoughts go steadily, and with pleasant rhythm and coherence. His style poses a medium though which his thoughts flow smoothly. There is not dullness, but sweetness in his writing, relished by the readers.
Simplicity of Language
Setting aside bombastic and pompous language, he insists on simplicity and effect of expression. He hardly uses excessive synonymous words to make the sentence tedious and tasteless. That is why his writing is not monotonous and dull, rather sweet and pleasant, relished interestingly by the readers. He adopts convincing and simple style which touch the core of reader’s heart directly. He rarely uses excessive synonyms to make the sentence monotonous and boring. However his sentences are long and dilated. He unfurls his thoughts through the long sentences to preserve the unity of thought. Russell could not help it because he wrote on solemn and grave subjects, which demanded an interlinked unity of thoughts and arguments. It is not an easy job to dwell upon sober and grave subjects and maintaining the simplicity of description and clarity of thoughts. But Russell manipulated it with proficiency. He diminished the gravity of subject with simplicity and lucidity of words and produced a style, which was unique but familiar, scholarly and easy.
Almost all his writings retain the seriousness of the subject, but as we have pointed out earlier, his writing does not bear his personal emotional effect. He was among the greatest humanists of 20th century who deeply felt the pain and problems of humanity. He set forth a practical philosophy of human life and all his life preached for it. But again he was a not a traditional preacher like an old type dogmatic clergy. It was his intellectual vision, broadmindedness and impersonal attitude towards human problems, which made him a sober, prolific and high profile writer. The deepness of his outlook actually made his style heart-felt and effective. He was much concerned for the humanity surrounded by horrible problems. There was a possible danger of nuclear war after the invention of nuclear weapons, world population was growing at an alarming rate, natural resources were running out fast and the likelihood of calamities and famines was hanging like Damocles sword on the head of humanity.
Furthermore the endless ideological clash between the two great super powers of the world and its formidable effects on mankind, particularly on the developing countries did not let him attain a peace of mind. He sensed the danger of all these problems on and clamored for it through his writing. He also deplored the follies of man done in the past and showed his deep concern for the imminent calamities. His heart was teeming with sympathy and love for humanity. He contemplated on the human follies, problems and hardships and always thought of their solutions.
His Humor and Satire
A serious discussion, how much important it may be, makes a write-up dull and boring. In spite of high seriousness, Russell’s style is tinged with cheerfulness and humor. His writing bears a highly intellectual and scholarly style, with a humorous touch. But his humor does not go outrageous or overboard. His writing never becomes disgusting rather is remains optimistic and lively with a ray of hope. This humor has a reformative aspect, which not only pinpoints human blunders, but also suggests a solution, with a hope for improvement in future. For example, when describing the opposition of the clergy against the scientific inventions towards the end of nineteenth century, when Franklin invented the lightning rod, he writes:
“When Benjamin Franklin invented the lightning rod, the Clergy both in England and America, with enthusiastic support of God to punish impiety or some other grave sin---- the virtuous are never struck by lightning. Therefore if God wants to strike anyone, Benjamin Franklin ought not to defeat His design, indeed to do so is to help criminals to escape. But was equal to the occasion. If we are believe the eminent Dr. Price, one of the leading divines of Boston. Lightning having been rendered ineffectual by the iron points invented by the sagacious Dr. Franklin, Massachusetts was shaken by earthquakes, which Dr. Price perceived to be due to God’s wrath at the Iron Point.’ In a sermon on the subject he said, “In Boston are more erected than elsewhere in New England, and Boston seems to be of God Apparently, however, Providence gave up all hopes of curing Boston of its wickedness, for though lightning rods became more and more common, earthquakes in Massachusetts have remained rare. Nevertheless, Dr. Price’s point of view, or something very like it, was still held by one of the most influential men of recent times. When there were several bad earthquakes in India, Mahatma Gandhi solemnly warned his compatriots that these disasters had been sent as punishment for their sins.” (Unpopular Essay page 85-86) The above detailed account shows sharpness of his humor and satire using which, how beautifully he exposes he follies of dogmatism. 
Ornate Style
Though Russell’s style is generally marked with clarity and brevity, yet he a capable of writing florid and embellished language, to prove his artistic command on writing. His only celebrated essay “The Free Man “Worship” published in his book Mysticism and Logic is a nice expression of his flowery and ornate style, which is an ample proof of his nice taste and command on English language.
Most of his writings are thoughtful and argumentative in nature, but it does not mar his clarity and fluency. The unity of thoughts pours out of his pen with a symmetry and harmony to make his description weighty and chaste. The excellent example of Russell’s descriptive style is seen in his own autobiography. It describes his life history narrated in an attractive, simple and appealing way, which is read by the readers with great interest.
In short: Russell can be regarded as one of the greatest prose-writers of 20th century, who wrote on a variety of subjects relating to human life with a great writing skill. Clarity, simplicity, fluency and harmony are the salient features of his style. He skillfully expresses unity of thought along with his unity of style.  

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