Conrad Russell was a nephew of the ninth Duke of Bedford: every publisher in Great Russell Street and Bedford Square must have wanted to publish his selected letters, if only from simple loyalty to the landowner. Russell's life was not remarkable, on the surface. Evelyn Waugh said he was 'exquisitely entertaining', but this is ambiguous: he may have meant that Russell was a figure of fun, like William Boot. When Russell died in 1947 he was described in the Times as 'that most endearing of Somerset farmers' - the best tribute they could come up with. Russell was ever a countryman, proud of his mangels: raised in rural Surrey, he was discomposed in towns. He wrote to his sister in 1902 when he was 24: 'I have never found London life so unattractive before. The young men at Scoones do not amuse me much but I seem to amuse them for they laugh consumedly every time I open my mouth. I think it is because my voice is different from theirs.' Worse was to come. In 1937 he wrote to Diana Cooper about a member of his London club who had raised an objection about Russell 'talking farming'. The complaint ran: 'It's really unbearable. I sometimes think I'll scream, it suffocates me.' Russell concedes: 'Well, you never see yourself as others see you. I'm THE club bore and never knew it.'
LRB 23 July 1987 | PDF Download