Hardy in the USA

Below are some extracts from correspondence relating to Hardy's time in the USA. It is to be found in the Veblen archive at the US Library of Congress in Washington, DC. Notes are by Douglas Rogers.

GHH to OV, undated (but very early on in Hardy's time at Princeton, 1928) From 203 Graduate College, Princeton

Dear Veblen,

Just a line or two to give you my first impressions. I had an excellent passage - I didn't regret rather squandering money on being comfortable at all costs in the Majestic (it would have been a disaster to destroy the effects of my holiday [in the Jura] by having to begin on top of a weeks sickness) - and came on here straight. I missed Wallace Lund [the official from the International Education Board who had expressly wanted to meet Hardy; the IEB provided US$1,300 in travel expenses for Hardy's visit, and another US$2,200 for Veblen] in the confusion, and being rather bewildered by NY, and finding when I got to the station that there was a train in 20 minutes, thought it best to get into it. Odd that my only train in this country of infinite velocity should be the slowest I've been in for about 25 years - like going down to Oxford by a train which stopped at every station!

As regards this place: (1) the weather is completely marvellous, more than anything I could have anticipated (2) I can get tennis of just about the right standard (3) the food here is good - so on the physical side I'm O.K. (4) I do not much like Trowbridge (I never did: there seems at bottom something fundamentally unsympathetic about him - bleak is the right New College word, as Smith will tell you), and Gillespie is kindness itself but in no way exciting. So for company inside the College I'm rather thrown on the younger people and find myself associating with the Englishmen here rather beyond the ideal at present (they all appear more sophisticated than they are, while the Americans have an incredible probably rather delusive air of innocence). But at present I've hardly begun work - I've lectured just once - and so not properly made contact with the mathematicians as such. Alexander and Lefschetz seem obviously attractive people. With Weyl it seems to me doubtful at present whether I shall like him very much or not: I may, but I don't feel sure. I've met him before, but never been able before to talk to him freely. [Weyl was to have his own uncertainties about staying in Princeton, to the point that he seems to have made himself ill.]

It is obviously a wonderful place for work, but at present I've hardly got going, and am apt to find the long evenings after so early a dinner trying. The interval 'tea to dinner', my standby in Oxford, is just non-existent, and that demands a drastic readjustment of ones habits. Rooms quite satisfactory, but the 'houseman' (or whatever you call him) is a Swede who knows no English at all, and I feel the want of a man who can answer a question. But of course the sort of simplifications of life which you make over here are fundamentally sensible. I do not miss drinks at all - I have in fact drunk once (at a dinner with Mrs Pyne, who provided excellent wines as a matter of course) - but am disposed to upset my digestion by reckless consumption of soft stuff. However, I suppose my present passion for the soda fountain will abate by degrees. At present I find 3 solid meals a day too much, and usually cut lunch and visit a drug store instead.

Newman of St. John's has turned up, quite to my surprize. [But not to Veblen's, since Veblen had also handled support for Newman's visit to Princeton, again from the IEB, citing Hardy as approving of Newman.] I like him well enough personally, but as a mathematician find him rather dull - too learned, and too devoted to the very general. Of course, my sort of mathematician simply doesn't exist here, except in Hille, who isn't very inspiring. I do find myself regretting that Wiener's not here: but no doubt if he were I should very quickly revise my opinion. His candidature for Melbourne - if really seriously meant - is a real tragedy. [Wiener had asked Veblen for a reference for the then vacant chair at the University of Melbourne earlier in 1928, and, as Wiener regarded himself as a pupil of Hardy, he might well have asked Hardy for a reference too - yes.] But probably Australian nationalism will save him for you, and I'm sure he's not a W H Young, however trying he may be in some ways: for example he is sympathetic, and indeed generous, about other people's work. [Hardy seems unable to resist the temptation of taking a dig at W H Young whenever he mentions Young.]

I saw my first football match yesterday: much more impressive than I expected, though it was only a runaway match against an obscure university (score 50-0). The stadium is truly magnificent, and the young man who waves his arms and uses the megaphone a marvellous performer - I shall go hysterical when it comes to the big matches. I didn't find it at all hard to follow. I had hoped to get a ticket for the big base-ball matches in NY from a rich merchant I played bridge with on the ship, but unfortunately he seems to have forgotten it - I read the reports in the papers by the hour and worship Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. Batting averages ranging from .387 to .231 are very entertaining to a cricketer. [Alexander Oppenheim recollected that Hardy had got to know a businessman rather well on the Atlantic passage.]

The nicest people in N. College are Smith, Cox, MacAllum, and (of the older people) Joseph: but the last requires knowing and the others are not intellectual giants (though I fancy Cox is pretty able). Poole [the mathematics tutor at New College] is an odd creature, but fundamentally nice. You wont find the mathematicians generally at all exciting: but you should get to know Titchmarsh (of Magdalen, up occasionally for weekends, but generally in London). As a mathematician, he is quite in a class by himself.

All kind regards to Mrs Veblen.

Yours ever,

G H Hardy.

GHH to C.W.M. (later Sir Christopher) Cox, postmarked 26th Oct. 1928 From Graduate College, Princeton, NJ, USA

Dear Cox,

Was the telegram from you? But (so completely have I forgotten Oxford) I haven't the least idea what special Smith controversy you mean (I assume you do mean your A L Smith and not mine).

I am gravely concerned about the absence of cricket news - what you did send was entertaining but trivial. All I know is that Geary has come again (I'm extremely sorry, for I am pro-Geary as well as pro-Astill). No scores or anything.

I am glad to see that Ralph sacrifices his own average to give the colts a chance.

This country is in many ways the only one in the world - it has its deficiencies (tea gamma, paper beta -, undergraduates rarely above 10 in succulence, dinner rather an uninteresting meal, and at 6:30). But American football knocks other spectacles absolutely flat; the sun shines more or less continuously; and for quietness and the opportunity to be your own master I've never come across anything like it. Prohibition is a great blessing: the tobacco is good: and at cakes and ice cream it can give any other place a good 30. Also it is a great advantage to be able to have your shoes cleaned only once in 3 weeks - I had mine done today for the first time since I got here. Everybody seems just at first to be merely unsophisticated, but that is a delusion (just as Oxford youth is very much less sophisticated than it seems to be). I have at last learnt what the Oxford manner is - there are 3 or 4 Englishmen here and here it sticks out all over.

Yours ever,

G H Hardy.

There are 3 pages every day in every paper about merely the practices of the various university football teams. I am pro Princeton, Harvard, NY [crossed out], Columbia, Georgia, Penn {crossed out]: anti Yale, Army. Navy, Notre Dame, Southern Methodist, NYU, and Ohio State. It is only the University teams who count (I mean for the public, not much for me).

Every university has a paid publicity agent who sends along the latest gossip about the team each day to the paper.

GHH to CWMC, 17th November, 1928 (extracts)


The O. manner is terrible: the man in the street is entirely right in his view of it. It is true that the worst specimen is a Cambridge man.


It is the Yale game today: 70000 people in a town of 7000 at most: the whole place littered with cars: around: 30 special trains standing in the sidings: the student band practising out of doors (Yale also will bring a vast orchestra). I am not going to be clothed in white so as to form part of the human P. which will be displayed on our side of the stadium.

I am far and away the best dressed person in the Graduate College. [It is said that Hardy was sometimes mistaken for a tramp.]

GHH to CWMC, postmarked 23rd November, 1928 (extracts)?


Tell Veblen P12 Yale 2. Admirable match. But I don't like the P. alumni - everything else in the piece is O.K..


I expect that, as a spectacle, American Football has Rugby stone cold all the time.

GHH to OV, 10th December [1928] From Graduate College, Princeton

Dear Veblen,

I've made a change of plan, after consulting Fine and other members of the Faculty. The original arrangement left me with (a) only 5 or 6 days to get out west - no leisure to visit the Grand Canyon or see anything at all, and (b) a loose end in April (since I do not want to return until about Ap. 18 or 20, and I am booked in N.Y. for the AMS meeting on March 27.

So now I have arranged to leave here a week before the end of term, and to come back again in early April for 10 days or a fortnight: I shall probably give a short course of about 4 lectures on Primes, quite divorced from those I'm giving now [on the Theory of Functions]. On the whole I think the change should be an advantage from both sides; and I shall be particularly pleased to be here a while when you are here too.

I was rather discouraged for some time about my lectures - there is of course no real kick in the analysis here, and no one is happy until he can put at least 3 subscripts under every letter, or with less variables than 6. But they are going better now, I think: I fancy at first I was too elementary, seduced by the fact that, with Littlewood and Polya, I am writing a tract on inequalities, and was tempted to go over that ground in too great detail. The trouble about the analysis here, I fancy, is that Hille, though a very genuine mathematician, is too placid a person to get much of a heave on.

I have not been more than 3 miles away from the College since I've got here! [This contrasts with a later visit in 1936 as recollected by Frank Smithies.] My only trouble is lack of exercise when the weather is bad, and you can't play tennis - I'm too old to learn handball and there's no squash racket court in the College.

Very many thanks to you or your wife for the cuttings (especially as Cox is behaving disgracefully about them - I wish you would turn Smith on to speak to him really seriously - he seems to be as completely irresponsible as Casson). I am very much intrigued to know what they will do if the king dies in the middle of an over in one of the test matches. If they stop a match, there ought to be a revolution. The American papers today quote the odds against him as 10-3 at Lloyds and I loose 0.50 if he survives Thursday.

Yours ever,

G H Hardy.

Prof J W Alexander to OV, 17th November, 1928 (extracts) Princeton 12, Yale 2 [under the heading 'Miscellaneous']


Am listening in on 1hr of Hardy and 1hr of Weyl. Both splendid lecturers. More than ever convinced of the futility of formal lectures not supplemented by informal discussions, outside reading of some sort, etc. From day to day the expressions on the students' faces become blanker and blanker. Nor is this entirely the fault of the students but in the main of the lecture system. As Hopf said when we reached the top of the pointed gendarme on the Jaggegrat [?] "What a nonsense to so such foolishnesses".

Hardy is sold to American football. He even came over to my house to listen in on the Princeton-Ohio State game broadcast from Columbus by WJZ and the blue network. Hasn't missed a game in Princeton and knows more about the plays, rules, etc, than I ever did. Very much worried for fear the Australian cricket matches will not be fully reported in the N.Y. papers

Dean H B Fine to OV, 28th November, 1928 (extracts) [Dean Fine died suddenly before Hardy left Princeton]

My dear Veblen,

I owe you many apologies for my delay in writing - especially after receiving so enjoyable a letter as that of yours from Santa Cristina [?] But let me say at once that I have not waited until now to act on your suggestion about the $1300 from the General Education Board for Hardy. [In fact, the money was from the International Education Board; the GEB was an earlier Rockefeller organization, founded in 1902, whereas the IEB was founded in 1923.] The money was in the Treasurer's Office and Duffield has now sent it to him.


Hardy dropped in a few evenings ago to tell me that it would suit his plans better were he to leave Princeton for California Jan 18 (one week earlier than was planned) and then return to us on March 28 to remain until he sailed for England about the middle of April. By this arrangement he hoped to have the chance to visit with you, and he would be able to give a brief course of 4 or 5 lectures on the prime numbers. Of course I told him to act in accordance with his wishes; also that I liked the new plan better than the old one so far as we are concerned.

Everything seems to be going well with Hardy and Weyl. I think that Weyl is more inclined to remain with us than when he began his work at Princeton.

Prof S Lefschetz to OV, 31st December, 1928 (extracts) From 190, Prospect Street, Princeton, New Jersey

Dear Veblen,

It is understood of course that Oxford and England has it all over vs P. and the USA. We have nevertheless a few things going on hereabouts that may be of interest to you. The trouble is everybody tells you about them at the same time. Thus A has just written and no doubt our Dean ditto. However on the whole I saw much more of the N.Y. meeting than the rest and so will mostly confine my dope to it.


On the way to N.Y. the first day I got closely acquainted with Widder. He is getting a lot out of Hardy, growing, and would make a reasonable candidate for us (asst. prof $3,750 = Thomas' salary*). Am going to ask Hardy about him - M A Newman appeals to me pretty well too. I imagine he is not as good as Hopf, but very scholarly, good lecturer, speaks A1 English, and could get hold of things immediately. Also likely to stay. Have you met him and how did he impress you? [Again, as with Hardy, Lefschetz seems unaware that Veblen was instrumental in Newman being at Princeton in the first place.] Otherwise I saw no exciting young men at the meeting - no doubt my fault, for there was a huge mob.

*We could probably get him for that since Bryn Mawr is not a good payer. I see no sign that Widder is as good as Th. as a mathematician but probably much better as a teacher with broader culture.


Hardy is down with influenza in Buffalo and could not give the Gibbs lecture, which was read for him by Brinkman. Alexander did not appear. Richardson is down with grippe.

JOC/EFR August 2007

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