Never let an intellectual anywhere near your wife

The Agreeable World of Wallace Arnold
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The Independent Online
I note with horror, but not, I might add, surprise, that wagging tongues are claiming that my old sparring-partner and fellow egg-head Bertrand Russell once enjoyed a "carry-on" with the wife of his own son.

Let me make it plain from the outset that I am not one for gossip. Tittle- tattle concerning the private lives of distinguished men (and women!!) is repugnant to my nature. I would run a mile rather than betray my inside knowledge of, say, the family ties between Mrs Imran Khan and the Princess of Wales (peas in a pod, but whisper it not!) or, in a more intellectual sphere, the propensity of the left-wing firebrand Professor Eric Hobsbawm (dread name!) to drip soft-boiled egg on his jacket during breakfast, completely undermining his reputation as a "serious" historian.

Nevertheless, the Russell story provides further proof that the majority of so-called "intellectuals" are unsuited to the task of thinking, in any proper meaning of the word, and were always more at home prowling the cheaply carpeted corridors of a fifth-rate Spanish bordello than chewing the cud in the common rooms of our historic seats of learning.

Take Russell, for instance. Despite his self-proclaimed leftward leanings, in the 1950s and 1960s he was often a fellow guest of mine in some of the smarter of our stately homes. He liked nothing more than to parade from library to drawing room bearing this or that heavy tome of philosophical ramblings, often written by an author of impenetrably foreign extraction. Yet frequently would I creep up behind his favoured seat and mount a spot check on his reading matter: sure enough, tucked into the voluminous pages of the extended edition of Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus by the lugubrious Wittgenstein would be a freshly minted copy of Health and Efficiency, complete with sharp-focussed photographs of fuller-breasted housewives enjoying a carefree session of volleyball dressed in nothing but their birthday suits.

Later, I came across a draft copy of the old rogue's autobiography. "Three passions, simple but overwhelmingly strong, have governed my life," it began. "The longing for love, the search for knowledge, and a thirst for scantily clad dolly-birds." Fascinatingly, the final seven words had been scratched out, the phrase "an unbearable pity for the suffering of mankind" inserted in their stead.

We British have long maintained a healthy mistrust for what one might call the "thinkers" among us. In adolescence and early adulthood, many human being have thoughts that occur to them from time to time. This is a phase through which many of us pass, and it is best treated with the proverbial pinch of salt. But when a man carries on thinking - and thinking with ever increasing excitement - well into his twenties and even his thirties, it is only right that the alarm bells should ring, and society should be on its guard. Personally, I have not entertained a thought in my head since shortly after the last war, and this has served only to boost my glittering career as a man of letters, columnist, diarist and general expert in the field of politics, literature and current affairs.

Never trust a self-styled intellectual. There is nothing particularly clever about possessing a mind. We all have one. There is no need to bring it out in public and flaunt it, as though others might want to look at it. Yet this is something that Russell and others of his ilk - many of them foreign - could never comprehend.

With his poor hygiene and endless obsession with self-self-self, Jean- Paul Sartre could never have held down a position of any significance in Britain. We prefer our senior positions in public life to go to Professors of Common Sense who have earned good Second-Class degrees from the Department of Real Life. Can you imagine Sartre getting to grips with the Chairmanship of the Tote? Yet our major contemporary philosopher, Woodrow Wyatt, has proved himself worthy of that high office time and time again, offering ex-Prime Minister John Major lashings of common sense concerning election tactics, morning, noon and night, right up to the final moment before the poor man's abject fall from grace.

If one couldn't trust Bertrand Russell with one's wife, why on earth should one have trusted him with one's beliefs? Personally, I always gave him a wide berth. "Good morning, Arnold," he would say to me as we met for breakfast at Chatsworth or Cliveden. "And how are you?"

I could always see he was after an argument, which he would then seek to win on his own terms. "None of your tomfool questions for me, Russell!" I would counter, smartly. "I am as I am." Apparently one of the greatest minds of his generation, yet he would remain tongue-tied until the end of breakfast! So much for thought! Touche!