On Albert Einstein
One day at Fenner’s (the university cricket ground at Cambridge), just before the last war, G. H. Hardy and I were talking about Einstein. Hardy was a pure mathematician of world class, thirty years older than I was, but a close friend. Hardy had met Einstein several times, and I had recently returned from visiting him. Hardy was saying that in his lifetime there had only been two men in the world, in all the fields of human achievement, science, literature, politics, anything you like, who qualified for the Bradman class. For those not familiar with cricket or with Hardy’s personal idiom, I ought to mention that “the Bradman class” denoted the highest kind of excellence: it would include Shakespeare, Tolstoy, Newton, Archimedes, and maybe a dozen others. Well, said Hardy, there had only been two additions in his lifetime. One was Lenin and the other was Einstein.
I wasn’t quarreling with that. It was clear, all the theoretical physicists told us so, that if Einstein had not existed, 20th-century physics would itself have been different: this one could say of no one else, not even Rutherford or Bohr: to make that kind of difference was, incidentally, a necessary condition for entry into the Bradman class. Further, his character was inextricably mixed up with his achievement. Neither Hardy nor I were given to exaggerated estimates of human virtue: but again we took it for granted that if the word “noble” had any meaning, this was the noblest man we had met.
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