Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Wittgenstein-upon-Tyne* (NZ251656, NZ245650 & NZ225645)

Ludwig Wittgenstein is universally regarded as one of the greatest thinkers of the twentieth century. Years ahead of his time, he worked primarily in the fields of the philosophy of the mind, mathematics and language. Born into one of the richest families in Europe in 1889, he began life in Vienna, moved around a fair bit, and died in Cambridge in 1951.

Wittgenstein was an odd sort. He gave away his inheritance when in his twenties and suffered the suicide of all three of his brothers at an early age. For the most part he made his own way in life – eventually finding himself studying under Bertrand Russell at Cambridge a little before WWI. During the war he served as an officer in the Austro-Hungarian army, and thereafter lived for several years in Austria.

He returned to Cambridge in 1929, where he spent most of the next decade or so, and, bizarrely, served as a semi-anonymous porter in Guy’s Hospital, London, during WWII. It was whilst working there that he fell in with Doctors Reeve and Grant who were interested in philosophy and the effect of shock on air-raid casualities. When, in November 1942, the two doctors moved their studies to Newcastle’s Royal Victoria Infirmary, Wittgenstein was offered a job as their lab assistant at £4 per week – a post he eventually took up in April 1943. He became a lodger at Mrs Moffat’s house at 28 Brandling Park, Jesmond, where Reeve and Grant also lived. After several months living here it seems that the landlady’s ill-health forced a move, with Wittgenstein transferring to Conyers House in Western Avenue, Benwell, where he lived alone.

By all accounts, Wittgenstein didn’t really fit in very well with his friends and colleagues. He was often chatty at the wrong times and unsociable at others – though he did like watching films, especially westerns. He was mechanically minded and proved to be a good technician in his lab at the RVI – though he only worked there for ten months until February 1944. He did no philosophical work of note during this period, though he did gatecrash a philosophical lecture being given by Dorothy Emmett in Newcastle in his typically difficult fashion!

Upon leaving the North-East he soon found himself back in Cambridge where he picked up his philosophical work. Plaques have recently been erected at both 28 Brandling Park and the RVI to commemorate the great man’s brief stay in the city.

Note: Incidentally, Wittgenstein visited Tyneside briefly in 1932 at the behest of his friend Maurice Drury, during which time he called in at Newcastle and Jarrow.

* My clever title has been stolen from the excellent article by Bill Schardt. More information can also be found here. Images of plaques here and here.

No comments:

Post a Comment