The Prologue to Bertrand Russell’s Autobiography

What I Have Lived For

Three passions, simple but overwhelmingly strong, have governed my life: the longing for love, the search for knowledge, and unbearable pity for the suffering of mankind. These passions, like great winds, have blown me hither and thither, in a wayward course, over a great ocean of anguish, reaching to the very verge of despair.

I have sought love, first, because it brings ecstasy – ecstasy so great that I would often have sacrificed all the rest of life for a few hours of this joy. I have sought it, next, because it relieves loneliness–that terrible loneliness in which one shivering consciousness looks over the rim of the world into the cold unfathomable lifeless abyss. I have sought it finally, because in the union of love I have seen, in a mystic miniature, the prefiguring vision of the heaven that saints and poets have imagined. This is what I sought, and though it might seem too good for human life, this is what–at last–I have found.

With equal passion I have sought knowledge. I have wished to understand the hearts of men. I have wished to know why the stars shine. And I have tried to apprehend the Pythagorean power by which number holds sway above the flux. A little of this, but not much, I have achieved.

Love and knowledge, so far as they were possible, led upward toward the heavens. But always pity brought me back to earth. Echoes of cries of pain reverberate in my heart. Children in famine, victims tortured by oppressors, helpless old people a burden to their sons, and the whole world of loneliness, poverty, and pain make a mockery of what human life should be. I long to alleviate this evil, but I cannot, and I too suffer.

This has been my life. I have found it worth living, and would gladly live it again if the chance were offered me.

[Sorry for not blogging for ten whole days. Be back in a bit as soon as I am done with my ‘flu and other assorted troubles in life such as having to actually work :). In the meanwhile, if you want to waste time around here this neck of the woods, the management suggests the archives.]

Author: Atanu Dey


12 thoughts on “The Prologue to Bertrand Russell’s Autobiography”

  1. This brought back memories of the British Library in Pune where I found the autobiography and read the prologue in the reading room. I was in first year of engineering and had just come to Pune from my native place Kirloskarwadi. I was only vaguely familiar with the name Bertrand Russell and so picked up the book when I saw it. A friend who was with me sort of ridiculed me about reading dense philosophy. I never quiet read the complete thing. I guess I was not up to reading it at that time. I still remember the cover picture of Bertrand Russell smoking a pipe (if I remembering correctly).

    It is strange how things read so long back still stay hidden somewhere and pop up like this. Maybe I will read it again now. Thanks


  2. Bertrand has interesting view points.. the below is one of my favs..

    “One of the commonest things to do with savings is to lend them to some Government. In view of the fact that the bulk of the public expenditure of most civilized Governments consists in payment for past wars or preparation for future wars, the man who lends his money to a Government is in the same position as the bad men in Shakespeare who hire murderers. The net result of the man’s economical habits is to increase the armed forces of the State to which he lends his savings. Obviously it would be better if he spent the money, even if he spent it in drink or gambling. ”


  3. Not read much of B.R except while in college but its fantastic…his thoughts on love! Will try to get this book and read up. Meanwhile, here’s hoping you get well soon! Cheeers, Ravi


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  5. Quite an honest and insightfully refreshing prolouge, i must say…and bertrand russel has been a luminous mathematician and sceptic of our times…Nice to read that the heart of one of the most hated sceptic and icon-o-clast was breathing the same phobias and predelictions,as that of a common man.


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