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  • Print publication year: 2012
  • Online publication date: August 2014



All this is very comforting for dons, and especially for professors of mathematics. It is sometimes suggested, by lawyers or politicians or business men, that an academic career is one sought mainly by cautious and unambitious persons who care primarily for comfort and security. The reproach is quite misplaced. A don surrenders something, and in particular the chance of making large sums of money—it is very hard for a professor to make £2000 a year; and security of tenure is naturally one of the considerations which make this particular surrender easy. That is not why Housman would have refused to be Lord Simon or Lord Beaverbrook. He would have rejected their careers because of his ambition, because he would have scorned to be a man to be forgotten in twenty years.

Yet how painful it is to feel that, with all these advantages, one may fail. I can remember Bertrand Russell telling me of a horrible dream. He was in the top floor of the University Library, about a.d. 2100. A library assistant was going round the shelves carrying an enormous bucket, taking down book after book, glancing at them, restoring them to the shelves or dumping them into the bucket.