6. The Private Life of a Very Private Man Champernowne (1959, p. 264) has recalled Pigou’s “refusal to be diverted by any other ambitions” enabling him “to live a completely uncomplicated life”. This uncomplicated life encompassed two life-long endeavours: his intellectual and professional endeavours at Cambridge; and mountaineering, an activity that was introduced to him by his King’s College colleague, the economic historian J.H. Clapham, during the first decade of the 20 century (Robinson, 1968). Pigou spent the majority of his life at King’s College, Cambridge from his arrival there as a student in 1896 until his death in Cambridge on 7 March 1959. When not at King’s, Pigou became a proficient climber, climbing the Alps of Europe and around the Lake District in England where he built a cottage at Lower Gatesgarth, Buttermere in 1911. Pigou was a member of the ‘British Alpine Club’ and outside his academic writings there is a small collection of articles written for the Alpine Journal and The Climbers’ Club Journal recalling various climbing experiences and remembrances of friends. It is around these two principle life-long activities and interests that Pigou’s relationship with friends and colleagues primarily emerged.
Women and Men A notoriously shy person, Pigou is reported to have “revelled in misogyny” (Saltmarsh & Wilkinson, 1960, p.18). While Pigou’s awkwardness with women extended to his private life, the matter is perhaps illustrated by a work practice. Specifically, he was in the habit of dictating to female stenographers from one of his rooms at King’s College, through a half-opened door to another room, where the stenographers were required to sit and, on completion, be expected to return the resultant typescript using the College mail system (Graff, 1987). But this misogyny was symptomatic of a broader shyness and isolationist tendency. It also needs to be set against his mentoring support for Joan Robinson and his generosity and hospitality towards climbers and others who mixed in his social circle. Aslanbeigui (1997) has substantiated suggestions of Pigou’s chauvinistic attitude toward women and found that that attitude even permeates his economic thinking, but, she also finds that his views in that regard were consistent with the stereotypical attitude towards women prevalent in the late Victorian era – typified by patriarchal dominance and common-held beliefs of male superiority – in which Pigou was nurtured.
Perhaps not surprisingly, Pigou never married. Skidelsky describes Pigou in the dramatis personae entry in his biographical work on John Maynard Keynes as –
“…happiest in the company of his male students. He took them mountain climbing, wrote them letters laced with Italian couplets, and with a favoured few, like Donald Corrie, indulged in Cumberland wresting … in the seclusion of the grass area on the north of the Chapel at dead of night”. (Skidelsky 1983, p.980)
Collard (1996, p. 18) concludes, also from extracts of Keynes’ correspondence, that “it seems likely that the young Pigou would have had male partners”. However, Collard tempers these conclusions in light of Champernowne’s reminiscences in personal correspondence with him that “although Pigou enjoyed the company of intelligent, good-looking young men his feelings were platonic and sublimated”. Champernowne’s assertions appear consistent with Florence Tamagne’s (2007) two volume work on the history of homosexuality in Europe. In her work she traces the cult of homosexuality arising in the British public school system and at Cambridge and Oxford universities towards the end of the nineteenth century and early twentieth century. In the period immediately before the formation of the Bloomsbury group, Tamagne states that –
“Cambridge was characterised by its discreet tolerance, good taste, and restraint. The student, if they were homosexual, regarded this preference as an almost intellectual choice and very often kept their sexuality within a framework of asceticism and chastity. The adoration of boys was asserted as a philosophical ideal derived from the Greeks; it was idealized to the point of removing any sensuality and any concrete sexual implication. These ideas had a lasting influence … on the basis of such premises – [and] could defend homosexuality as a noble activity, an ideal of purity and abnegation as opposed to heterosexual debauchery and the shameless quest for pleasure. At the same time, this attitude did nothing to facilitate a liberation of morals; the ideas were tolerated but the acts were not.” (Tamagne p. 126)
The fact that Pigou’s closest relationships remain in essence, suggested, private and guarded in the literature suggests that Pigou’s recorded attitudes towards men fit within the contextual reconstruction as presented by Tamagne. Recollections of Pigou’s character simply suggest that he formed close and long term friendships, primarily with men, during the course of his life. Many of these friends went on to, in Pigou’s terminology, ‘crash’ (marry) and to have families of their own, with Pigou’s circle widening to include their wives and indeed their children.th
Friendship and Mountaineering When not at Cambridge, the hub of Pigou’s life centred on mountaineering. His house located in Lower Gatesgarth, Buttermere became a place where he “entertained a perennial stream of guests” including his close circle of friends, honeymooning couples, and students from Cambridge. Saltmarsh and Wilkinson (1960, p.19) recall mountaineering as largely providing Pigou’s avenue for contact with undergraduates recalling that Pigou was a good and generous friend to them, organising climbing parties, playing tennis and fives, lending them books, generously donating funds for travel, and retaining an interest in the Admission of Scholars in order to ‘pick a winner’. Pigou organised climbing expeditions both at Buttermere and to the Alps in Europe and became, himself, a competent climber.29 Although Pigou retained his life-long passion for climbing, his own climbing expeditions were severely curtailed at the age of forty-seven by a heart condition which presented after a climbing expedition in 1925.30 This condition remained with Pigou to the end of his life and generally affected his vigour after the late 1920s, Pigou suffering from major attacks in the late 1920s and again in the late 1930s. Pigou would, however, go on to support the climbing ambitions of younger men such as Wilfrid Noyce who had come to King’s College on an open scholarship from Charterhouse in 1936. Pigou made it possible for Noyce to climb for two seasons under experienced guides: Armand Charlet in 1937 and Hans Brantschen in 1938. Noyce would later become a member of the 1953 British Expedition that made the first ascent of Mount Everest. Noyce’s family members celebrated at Buttermere when they received the news that Everest had been climbed and, which (Saltmarsh & Wilkinson, 1960, p. 22) recalled as perhaps one of the happiest moments in Pigou’s life, an occasion where “he was with difficulty restrained from giving the baby champagne”.31
The attraction of the mountains for Pigou can be gleaned from the various articles which he wrote regarding his adventures. It is also evident from writing by other mountain climbers who mention Pigou, which tend to stress the companionship amongst fellow climbers and the conversations they would have during climbs regarding a wide variety of things. For example, Wilfrid Noyce (1961) in the ‘Correspondence’ section of the Alpine Journal, when clarifying the philosophy of a fellow climber who had found that the majesty of mountains inspired his contemplation of metaphysical possibilities makes a comparison of him to Pigou. Noyce writes that “He was as logical an agnostic as A.C. Pigou in his refusal to be driven on, through the many things he marvelled at but did not understand, into something he personally could not believe”. Indeed, Pigou maintained such agnostic sentiments throughout the course of his adult life (Saltmarsh and Wilkinson, 1960).
The Ordeals of a Pacifist
The period immediately before World War I has been described as Pigou’s heyday (Saltmarsh and Wilkinson, p.19). After this period Pigou transformed from a “gay, joke-loving, sociable, hospitable young bachelor of the Edwardian period” (Johnson, 1960, p. 153) to an individual increasingly retreating to an intimate circle of friends and focused on his intellectual pursuits centred at Cambridge, and mountaineering. He would, however, keep these elements in his life distinctly separate, not wanting to “talk shop” outside his professional commitments at Cambridge. Guests at Buttermere would know better than to talk economics at all (Robinson, 1968). The reasons the youthful, “Viking-like” Pigou transformed into something of a recluse after the late 1920s has been attributed to his experiences in France and Italy during World War I, and his debilitating heart condition that affected his general vigour and which curtailed his passion in climbing (Champernowne, 1959; Johnson, 1960; Saltmarsh & Wilkinson, 1960), and the impact of internal politics at Cambridge (Collard, 1996).
Pigou maintained pacifist sentiments throughout the course of his adult life. He ‘despised and hated the senseless folly of war’. Though of military age at the commencement of World War I (Pigou was then 36), he did not join the armed forces. Instead Pigou continued with his teaching commitments at Cambridge, providing part-time assistance with the Board of Trade, and spending vacation periods driving for the Society of Friends’ Ambulance Unit commanded by Philip Noel-Baker, and the First British Ambulance Unit commanded by George Trevelyan. Pigou had bought a Ford car for use of officers of the Friends’ Ambulance Unit which was later transformed into a small lorry which Pigou would drive. Pigou is remembered for taking on particularly dangerous jobs, working close to battlefronts in both France and Italy.32 Pigou’s experiences during World War I, his observation of human waste, misery and destruction, are recalled uniformly as fundamentally changing his character. In a letter to the editor of The Nation, Pigou describes his experiences and the impact upon society as he saw it:
“I have seen the shattered ruins of Ypres Cathedral; I have watched the mud-stained soldiery staggering homeward from their trenches; I have been near by when children in Dunkirk have been maimed and killed from the air. And the sorrow, terror, and pain that these things represent – the pitiful slaughter of the youth of seven nations, the awful waste of effort and organizing power, the dulling and stunting of our human sympathies …” (Pigou, 1916)
Pigou’s position of conscientious objection during the war also produced a considerable amount of ill-will in his own immediate society. Conscription was introduced in Great Britain towards the end of 1915. In 1916 the Military Services Act commenced conscription of unmarried men between 18 and 41 and later widened to incorporate married men, and men up to 51 by 1918. Although the act included a “conscience clause”, objectors had to face a tribunal to argue their case as why they should not be called upon to join the army. In Pigou’s case, Cambridge University made a special case to exempt him on the grounds that his duties as Professor of Political Economy were indispensable. Pigou’s position on the war and his possible military service became publicly debated via a series of letters written to the editors, and reported in, local (The Cambridge Daily News) and national (The Morning Post and The Times) media. William Cunningham, for example, accused Pigou of trying to “shelter himself behind his colleagues” (as cited in Aslanbeigui, 1992, p. 100).
Aslanbeigui (1992) suggests that the perpetrators of the public attacks on Pigou were linked to Herbert S. Foxwell.33 As already mentioned, Foxwell was bitterly disappointment by Pigou’s eventual appointment as Alfred Marshall’s successor and that bitterness may have influenced the role that Foxwell played in Pigou’s Borough Tribunal hearing. During that tribunal hearing, Foxwell contradicted John Neville Keynes’ assertion that Foxwell was unable to take over Pigou’s commitments at Cambridge in Pigou’s absence. Following this refutation, J. N. Keynes and the University were placed in an awkward position, effectively forcing Keynes to indicate that Foxwell would not be a suitable replacement for Pigou and to explain why. Pigou’s case for non-conscription stood and Foxwell was humiliated (Aslanbeigui, 1992). The war therefore impacted on Pigou manifoldly; not only from what must have been extremely confronting experiences arising from his activities as an ambulance driver near the French and Italian fronts, but also from the quasi-political machinations arising from his tribunal hearing and, in the period leading up to his hearing, having his professional (and moral) position attacked by those closer to home.
7. A Brief Final Reflection Pigou appeared to find an avenue to address his intellectual concerns in the interests of all people, especially working people, by drawing upon his philosophical reflections of what was “good” for the individual and society and utilising the analytical tools of economic theorising developed by Marshall in order to provide means by which society might benefit from the “fruits” of economic knowledge. The discipline of economics provided a means to develop measures that would ameliorate emerging and ongoing social problems. In Pigou’s words “[I]t is … the social enthusiasm which revolts from the sordidness of mean streets and the joylessness of withered lives, that is the beginning of economic science” (Pigou, 1920, p.5).
Pigou retreated from direct policy debate and politics, a process which was more marked after his World War I experiences, but this allowed him to make reflection on text his modus operandi. He regarded the writing of essays as an essential pedagogical device for students to learn. His own writings too were based on quiet, sober reflection on text. He eschewed dramatic rhetorical forms that culminated in polemics centred on ‘headline’ issues, preferring to focus on the detail of what is fundamentally important and work through those issues carefully and patiently. As he noted in the Preface to The Economics of Welfare (1920), “The complicated analyses which economists endeavour to carry through are not mere gymnastic. They are instruments for the bettering of human life” (p. lxix).
Pigou the scholar can perhaps be characterised by a handful of words: quiet, shy, profound, useful. That said, many gaps in our understanding of this important economist remain. For example, for someone so shy with women, how can his important mentoring of Joan Robinson to be reconciled with misogyny? Similarly, how much of Pigou’s changed behaviour was due to his experiences in World War I? There are many such open questions about Pigou and we must conclude that Arthur Pigou the man remains elusive in many regards. But we hope that some of the gaps in our knowledge about Pigou, the man and the scholar, will be reduced by publication of Pigou’s forthcoming biography, which is currently being prepared by Nahid Aslanbeigui and Guy Oakes.
Appendix to Chapter 1) Letter from A.C. Pigou to Joan Robinson, Summer 1939 (JVR\vii\374\2)34
Dear Mrs Robinson,
The Lecture list committee yesterday approved the plan of asking you to give lectures on monetary themes preliminary to Keynes’ lectures on his own stuff. I approve of the plan, but should like, if you will let me, to explain why I have felt a slight hesitancy about it.
I think that in recent years the men have been put into a terrible muddle by having controversies, largely, in my opinion, about minor more or less verbal difference, emphasized to them, and it will be good, for their side, to have monetary lectures given by people more in agreement with one another than was the case when Dennis was here. On the other hand, I think it would be a great pity if they got the impression that everybody who wrote about money before Keynes was an imbecile and that his way was a sort of sacred gospel of which every word was inspired. My hesitancy was that you, being so very much a Keynesian, might unconsciously treat other people’s theories as merely stepping stones to his. I hope very much that that you will treat them objectively of course. I don’t suggest that you shouldn’t criticize them or should suppress your own view. It’s really a matter of degree; but I’m sure you will see my point. Here’s an illustration. Keynes said incidentally in the course of our talk (I don’t suppose he would really stick to it) that Marshall regarded money merely as a veil of all points of view. When one remembers Marshall’s express statement that the Principles is based on the assumption that stable price are maintained, together with the immense trouble he took to clarify a stable price-scheme (he told me once, if I remember rightly, that he kept a draft of the article by him for 10 years before publishing it), the idea that he thought money unimportant and nothing but a veil seems to me fantastic. What I’m really getting at is to express a hope that you will not use other theories just as illustrations of Keynes, but will treat them on their merits. Please forgive this. It’s really rather an impertinence for me to write it. But, as it’s all in a very friendly spirit, I hope you won’t mind.
2) Letter from A.C. Pigou to D.W. Corrie [unknown year] (Coll 19.10)
My dear Donnie,
The city is full of silence; and I – to whose ears the murmured merriment of voices had not of late been wholly strange – I wonder what this might mean. And as I came to the gates of the college, I saw written above it in letters of dull fire the words
Per me si va nella cita dolente;
Per me si va tra la perduta gente.
And from the gate there issued an old man swaying slowly from side to side and murmuring of meteorology. With this aide I replied to the apartment set aside for me. Bleakness without and within! Desolate workmen desecrating D Court; the sound of the hammer was heard in the land, dismal, reiterated, slow. At last through the mist there tottered weary forms. Come, they said, let us at least dine; and they did consume the goodly duck and did ask me, the latest comer to that dim abode, to tell them of the world that lay beyond the fastened gates, And I said; there is summer in the hedgerows and bracken on the hills, they hunt otters; they make puns. And a tall shade, moustachioed and grave, upon whose forehead was written I am Reddaway, and on his breast in amethyst O.B., turned to me and asked: And do they use the puns because it’s otter, and I answered ‘That is their punishment’. Thereafter, there was silence till one said: There was in Cambridge a man who sought to know philosophy; and he entered the shop of Messers Macmillan to demand some book wherein all that men knew thereon should be put down. And the man of the shop meditated for a time and departed. And when he returned it was seen that he bore with him – the works complete of Mr Arthur Benson. At this a faint smile burled among the assembled shades, and they wandered homeward amid the gloom. And so the days pass in Malebolge. We are dropping down the ladder rung by rung.
That is the news of us; this, the account of us; so the stars cry to us; so the mists seem. Ave amice; vegataturi te salutant. Write unto me in this museum of the antique, and so may it face thee well. Given unto the gate-keeper at the door of the inferno on this 19 day of September by
Ever yr affectionate friend,
[Editorial Note: The original letter is typed but unsigned, presumably because of Pigou’s poor health at the time]
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