JB: I wrote a book called the Identity of Man. I never saw the cover of the English edition until the book reached me in print. And yet the artist had understood exactly what was in my mind, by putting on the cover a drawing of the brain and the Mona Lisa, one on top of the other

A Recollection by Eric Roll

AT HULL, where I was busily engaged in learning to teach undergraduates - mainly economic theory and applied subjects, such as British Industry and Agriculture - the smallness of the college presented exceptional opportunities for keeping in touch with members of other departments and for making friends. Among these was Jacob Bronowski, at that time professionally a geometer, but already well-known as a poet with interests in all fields of knowledge.
Eric Roll
Lord Roll was born in 1907. He was Professor of Economics and Commerce at University College, Hull, 1935-1946 and Deputy Head of the British Food Mission to the USA, 1941-1946. He continued to hold a large number of important economic posts in the post-war period, including being deputy leader of the UK delegation for negotiations with NATO (1952) and EEC (1961-63). He was a director of the Bank of England for many years. His publications include A History of Economic Thought(1954) and his autobiography Crowded Hours (1985). He died in 2005.
In the summer of 1937, my wife and I rented a cottage with Bronowski (always known to us as Bruno) and Eirlys Roberts at Wendens Ambo, not far from Cambridge where I was able to get access to the great Marshall Library and to see and read many of the oldest economics classics in their first editions. Bruno was then working on his first major book, The Poet's Defence , and I had started work on A History of Economic Thought. We sat at opposite ends of the garden, he typing his texts directly, I writing mine in longhand, my wife typing as the pages were written.

It was impossible for us in the thirties not to be concerned with what was going on in the larger world: the development of fascism in Italy, the rise of Nazism in Germany, and the Spanish Civil War. Bronowski wrote a number of poems on the Spanish Civil War which were privately printed and circulated, and all of us under the leadership of my wife took part in organising the 'Humber food ship' for Spanish relief. What stirred us above all was the deepening depression with its appalling paradoxes of destruction of commodities, unemployment, and misery and poverty in the world which no one who was not alive then can perhaps fully appreciate now. This naturally led most of us to what would be called a left-wing view of public affairs, and although the simple categories in which we, together with most of our generation, were then wont to define the issues have long since ceased to be regarded as adequate by me, the imprint left by the events of that period has not disappeared.

Source: Crowded Hours, Faber and Faber 1985, p. 30-32.

The Ascent of Jacob Bronowski

Copyright © 2000 by Stephen Moss. All rights reserved.