Bertrand Russell and Dr. Barnes

Photo courtesy of

by Leonard P. Liggio

After July 4, 2011 the famous art-rich Barnes Museum in Marion, PA was moved to central Philadelphia’s museum-row on Benjamin Franklin Parkway. This followed numerous court decisions as to the control of the art work which might be worth billions of dollars but lacking funds to maintain the building . Dr. Albert C. Barnes, M. D. (1872-1951) invented a nose-drops called Argyrol (a black substance to which I was subjected as a child) which made Dr. Barnes fabulously wealthy. After World War One he began to collect Impressionist paintings among others.

In 1940 Dr. Barnes offered Bertrand Russell a fellowship to work at the Barnes Foundation. I believe several of Bertrand Russell’s four wives were Americans; some of whom were from Philadelphia. Russell had been imprisoned after 1916 for opposing the imposition of conscription in Great Britain. Also, he was expelled from his fellowship at Trinity College, Cambridge University. After his release he was sent to lecture at Chinese universities by the Rockefeller Foundation, which at the same time sent John Dewey to lecture in China.

Although on separate schedules, the Chinese students treated it as a debate where in Dewey advocated radical change and industrial democracy (socialism) and Russell advocated progression based on institutions such as family, clan, and associations. The Chinese Communists adopted John Dewey’s prescriptions. (Russell also visited the Soviet Union and wrote criticisms of its programs.) Russell and his new wife settled in the English country-side and formed a non-traditional school. Freda Utley, a student in London, became Russell’s secretary. In 1938 with a new wife Russell was appointed professor of philosophy at the University of California, Los Angeles, living in a typical California ranch-house.

In 1940, Russell was appointed a philosophy professor at the City College of New York. The board of regents of CCNY objected that Russell would corrupt the boys at CCNY since he had written about companionate-marriage before legal marriage. Russell’s contract was quashed amid the active newspaper reporting of the issue. Dr. Barnes stepped in and offered the fellowship at the Barnes Foundation.  Russell was writing his famous History of Western Philosophy.

After several years, Dr. Barnes proposed that he was the co-author of the work to the surprise of Russell. In the middle of World War Two Russell could hardly return to England and Harvard University offered him a research fellowship so long as he did not teach the boys at Harvard College. In 1945, Russell was able to return to England where Trinity College had restored his fellowship. His older brother, Earl Russell, had died and Bertrand Russell was his heir. Bertrand Russell’s parents, Viscount and Viscountess Amberley had died when the boys were young, and they were raised by their grandparents (Lord John Russell had been foreign minister and prime minister of Great Britain, and created Earl Russell).

Viscount Amberley was a friend of John Stuart Mill who was god-father of Bertrand Russell. (Some of these events in his life we discussed when I was a guest for several days of Earl Russell in 1968 at Plas Penrath, Merioneth, Wales. Earl Russell was selling the family archives which were finally purchased by McMaster University, Canada. Having been born in 1872, he was surviving on Metracal food supplement and Red Hackle single-malt scotch and Old Sailor pipe tobacco.) Russell received the Nobel Prize in 1950. Russell’s second son, Conrad, Earl Russell (+October, 2004), was a noted historian of the 17th Century English Civil War who taught at Yale University and University of London.