September 1941 Wittgenstein had started to work as a porter at Guy's Hospital.
During his time there he met Basil Reeve, a young doctor with an interest
in philosophy, who was studying the
effect of shock on air-raid casualties under Dr R T Grant.
Grant felt that the concept of "shock" should be abandoned
because there was no general agreement as to which symptoms indicated that the
patient was suffering from it. Ray
Monk, Wittgenstein's biographer, suggests that Wittgenstein was interested by
this radical approach to the problem.
the blitz ended there were fewer casualties to study and in November 1942 Grant
and Reeve moved to the Royal Victoria Infirmary, Newcastle upon Tyne which
treated numbers of road traffic and industrial casualties.
They offered Wittgenstein a position as a laboratory assistant at a wage
of £4 per week. He left Guy's on
the 17th March 1943 and arrived in Newcastle on 29th April, having spent part of
the intervening period with Rush Rees at Swansea.
He lodged at Mrs Moffat's house at 28 Brandling Park, West Jesmond (2),
which is not far from the hospital. Grant
and Reeve also lived there, as did Grant's secretary, Miss Helen Andrews.
Wittgenstein did not fit into the household very well.
In the mornings, when everyone was rather subdued, he was excessively
chatty, and in the evenings, when everyone else relaxed together, he became
unsociable and preferred to eat in his bedroom rather than to join the others at
dinner. Most of his evenings were
spent watching films.
is a story that Wittgenstein had a blazing row with a bus conductor about a
film, and afterwards said how much he enjoyed the discussion.
It was just like the arguments he used to have in Vienna!
I have not been able to find a source of this story in print.
Mrs Moffat's health deteriorated they all had to find new lodgings (2), which
was not easy for Wittgenstein as he looked rather scruffy.
He also spoke with a foreign accent, and claimed to be a professor!
work included histology and physiological measurements, and he constructed an
apparatus to study the relationship between breathing and pulse rates.
Drury (4), who visited him during this period, describes the device:
"He took me to his
room in the research department and showed me the apparatus which he himself had
designed for his investigation. Dr
Grant had asked him to investigate the relationship between breathing (depth and
rate) and pulse rate (volume and rate). Wittgenstein
had so arranged things that he could act as his own subject and obtain the
necessary tracings on a revolving drum. He
had made several improvements in the original apparatus, so much so that Dr
Grant had said he wished Wittgenstein had been a physiologist and not a
when Monk was researching for his book, no-one could remember exactly what this
device was like. It was perhaps
typical of Wittgenstein to use himself as the subject (cf. the world is my world
- the microcosm!).
is not surprising that he proved to be useful as a laboratory worker.
He had showed an early interest in mechanical things and had constructed
a sewing machine out of wood when aged ten.
His education had been technical and he had spent three years as an
engineering research student in Manchester (from 1908), where he had studied the
combustion of gases under high pressure, and had also developed an interest in
aeronautics (notably in kites and propellers).
the Philosophical Investigations, 270 contains the sentence "I discover
that whenever I have a particular sensation a manometer shows that my
blood-pressure rises". This
may be a reference to an actual experience that occurred while taking part in
experiments at Newcastle.
also describes a visit to Durham with Wittgenstein during this period.
As they walked by the river Drury described his shock he at seeing an
obscene bas-relief of the god Horus. Wittgenstein
replied that not every religion has St Augustineís attitude to sex (4).
in Newcastle, Wittgenstein did little or no philosophical work.
He had begun to doubt whether he was any longer capable of it, and he
found laboratory work very demanding. It
was, however, during this period that he appeared unexpectedly at a philosophy
lecture given by the young Dorothy Emmett at Newcastle.
had been invited by Freda Herbert, a chemical pathologist, to give a paper to
the philosophy group that met in her flat.
Dorothy Emmett stayed in the Grand Hotel (currently Bar Oz) in the
Haymarket, and was enjoying the unusual wartime luxury of a bath with unlimited
hot water, when the phone rang. It
was Freda Herbert asking if it was all right for a stranger to come to the
meeting. Dorothy Emmett felt that
this was an unnecessary interruption to her bath and said so in no uncertain
terms. It was only when she arrived
to give her paper that she was told that the stranger was Wittgenstein.
He had not yet arrived and she had hopes of getting through the paper
before he appeared. However, he
walked in when she had scarcely begun. She
recognised him and was somewhat unnerved. Somehow
she managed to finish her talk, whereupon Wittgenstein said "Now lets do
some philosophy", and proceeded to take over the meeting, completely
ignoring the subject of her paper!
was always a difficult man. When
Drury unwisely wrote expressing the hope that he would make lots of friends in
Newcastle, Wittgenstein rather unkindly replied: "It is obvious to me that
you are becoming thoughtless and stupid. How
could you imagine that I would ever have 'lots of friends'."
Grant sometimes arranged for his unit to take the day off to go walking
together along Hadrian's wall, but Wittgenstein was never invited to join these
excursions, as it was feared that he would talk shop.
He did, however, go walking with Grant and Reeve on other occasions.
Bywaters, who took over the unit from Grant (see below), found
Wittgenstein reserved and uncommunicative, although a meticulous worker.
January 1944 Grant and Reeve left Newcastle to study battlefield casualties in
Italy. It seems that Wittgenstein
and Reeve did not part on very good terms.
Wittgenstein's last remark to his former friend was "You're not such
a nice person as I first thought". Dr
E G Bywaters replaced Grant as head of the unit.
Grant encouraged Bywaters to retain Wittgenstein's services, but
meanwhile he had received a letter from Cambridge (Monk thinks from Cambridge
University Press rather than the long-suffering University) asking him to return
and start work on a philosophical treatise.
Perhaps rather uncharacteristically he complied with this request and
returned to Cambridge on 16th February 1944, less than a month after the
departure of Grant and Reeve from Newcastle.
He had begun to miss philosophical work, and was feeling lonely.
work of Grant's unit is described in "Medical Research Committee Reports
1939 - 1945": Wittgenstein is
not mentioned (5).
Newcastle it is quite widely believed that Wittgenstein worked as a porter (as
he did at Guy's), rather than as a laboratory assistant.
Indeed the late Brian Redhead (a well-known BBC broadcaster) claimed to
have been wheeled into the operating theatre by him.
However the Radio 4 "Radio Lives" program about Redhead gave a
number of instances of his inventing interesting incidents in his life, and it
is likely that this was another of them. There
is no other evidence that Wittgenstein ever worked as a porter at the RVI.
25th November 1997 a plaque commemorating Wittgenstein's time in Newcastle was
unveiled at the Royal Victoria Infirmary by Dr Mary Midgley.
It is situated in the oldest part of the building just inside the main
entrance, and was donated by the philosophy students of the Department of
Continuing Education of Newcastle University.
Photographs of consultants working in the hospital while Wittgenstein was
there were placed on either side of the plaque, and by coincidence Freda
Herbertís picture is among them.
was a notoriously difficult man in his relationships with other people.
However, when Mary Midgley gave her speech before unveiling the plaque,
she expressed the view that on the whole he got on rather better with friends
and colleagues during his time in Newcastle than either before or after this
"Ludwig Wittgenstein, The Duty of Genius."
"Myers' Literary Guide - The North East."
"Wittgenstein -A Memoir."
"Wittgenstein - Personal Recollections." ed. Rush Rees, chapter
by M O'C Drury.
Medical Research Committee Reports 1939-1945, pages 253-256.