Autograph letter signed, in English, to Alice Ambrose,
thanking her for a gift and offering an explanation in answer to an earlier letter.Trinity College, Cambridge,: 8 January 1936 Stock Code: 132705
"It is damn difficult to be modest in your heart"An unpublished autograph letter by Ludwig Wittgenstein to his student Alice Ambrose, written after her return to America following completion of her second PhD at Cambridge, thanking her for a gift and attempting to offer an explanation in response to a letter of hers, in which he confesses to a lack of modesty.
An American philosophy student, Alice Ambrose was at Cambridge between 1932 and 1935, studying under both Ludwig Wittgenstein and G. E. Moore. She was one of the preferred students to whom Wittgenstein dictated what later became known as The Blue and Brown Books, and she spent considerable time with both him and Frank Skinner. Wittgenstein terminated their association abruptly in 1935, when Ambrose decided, with encouragement from Moore, to publish an article entitled "Finitism in Mathematics" in the philosophical journal Mind which was intended to give an account of Wittgenstein's position on the subject.
"The article annoyed Wittgenstein intensely, and he tried hard to persuade her not to publish it. When she and G. E. Moore, who was then editor of the journal, refused to succumb to this pressure, he abruptly ended any association with her. In the letter to Schlick of 31 July 1935... however, he blames not her, but the academics who encouraged her to go ahead with the article. The fault lay primarily, he thought, with the curiosity of academic philosophers to know what his new work was all about before he felt able to publish his results himself. Reluctant as he was to cast pearls before swine, he was nonetheless determined they should not be offered counterfeits" (Monk, Ludwig Wittgenstein, the duty of genius, page 346).
Ambrose gives an account of the event in her article "Ludwig Wittgenstein: a portrait", included in Ludwig Wittgenstein: Philosophy and Language (1972), co-authored with her husband Morris Lazerowitz, noting "I saw him once more, for lunch at my flat on the day I left Cambridge in August, and parted with his blessing. But the magic circle was broken" (page 24).
In the present letter, Wittgenstein writes to thank her for sending him some American detective magazines that he much enjoyed, no doubt those produced by Street and Smith. He refers to a letter she had sent him the previous year, in which she had presumably revisited their fall out: "I got your letter about 8 weeks ago but didn't answer it for it seemed to me to be in a sense all wrong, & at the same time I felt that I wd have to write a book to explain why". He then quotes Swift by way of a simple response; "no man ever made an ill figure who understood his own talents, nor a good one who mistook them." adding "It is damn difficult to be modest in your heart; I know this, because I lack modesty myself. (Though of course it's easy for me to say a few modest sounding things.)"
Together with a charming New Year's gift of a fancy embroidered handkerchief and Wittgenstein's friendly sign off, wishing Ambrose "good luck, good thoughts & decent feelings."
Single sheet of ruled paper (235 x 170 mm), written on both sides in ink. 39 lines, approximately 180 words, folded for mailing, in excellent condition, together with a fancy embroidered handkerchief (see below).
Letter folded for mailing, else in excellent condition, the handkerchief in equally good condition, folded.
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