The troubles at the LSE go back a long way. Perhaps they began on the day in July 1894 when Henry Hutchinson shot himself, thus activating the terms of the will that he had made. A loyal if morose member of the Fabian Society from Derby, Hutchinson had stipulated that the bulk of his sizeable fortune - say a million in today's money - should be applied by his executors 'to the propaganda and other purposes of the said Society and its Socialism'. What he could hardly have anticipated was that Sidney Webb would use his position as an executor to deflect most of the money away from the obvious political uses that had been intended. George Bernard Shaw's indignant account of a subsequent meeting of the Fabian executive, at which Webb 'hinted that the bequest had been left to him to dispose of as he thought fit, and that the executive had nothing to do with it', was not just Shavian hyperbole. His incredulity at the Fabians' supine acceptance of some token Hutchinson Lectures, duly propagating socialism, at the price of Webb being allowed 'to commit an atrocious malversation of the rest of the bequest', was hardly unreasonable. But, as Beatrice Webb's diary records, Sidney was already irrevocably committed to his own scheme: 'His vision is to found, slowly and quietly, a "London School of Economics and Political Science" - a centre not only of lectures on special subjects, but an association of students who would be directed and supported in doing original work.'
LRB 21 September 1995 | PDF Download