Hardy and Veblen on Max Newman

Below are some extracts from correspondence between G H Hardy and Oswald Veblen relating to Max Newman to be found in the Veblen archive at the US Library of Congress in Washington, DC. Notes are by Douglas Rogers.

GHH to OV, [?,1928] (extract)
[After only one lecture at Princeton.]

.... Newman of St John's has turned up quite to my surprise. 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 does not exist here, except in Hille, who is not 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.

[Wallace Lund (WL) handled International Fellowships at the International
Education Board (IEB); Veblen's correspondence with him dated back to at
least 1924.]
OV to WL (IEB), 4th May, 1928 (extracts)

.... I enclose here with a copy of a letter which I have just received from Mr M H A Newman. Mr Newman is one of the most promising of the younger mathematicians in England and I know enough about his work to be willing to sponsor him in the way he desires. I remember speaking with Professor Hardy about him last year and I know Hardy's opinion agrees with mine.

The people in Princeton with whom he would particularly want to work are [J W] Alexander and Lefschetz.

I have talked with Alexander and Lefschetz who would both be very pleased if it were possible for Newman to come here.

... you will be able to consult with Tisdale [of the IEB's office in Paris] while he is in this country.

SL to OV, 15th May, 1931 (extracts and digest)
[From Garden House Hotel]

Dear Veblen,

I am snatching a few moments to tell you about my experience here ... This place used to be Cayley's residence from 1864 to 1864 + 30 odd years and the old boy had pretty good taste you may believe me. It is alongside the Cam, at the Cam dam falls, with a lovely view, grounds ditto, etc. (etc. includes the peace that passeth understanding, and fair meals). I spoke on Tuesday (formal) and yesterday (informal, tea party at Newman's) for N's private group. I dined at John's twice, first as N's guest, next as Baker's, then at Trinity's as a guest of a fellow, Duval. At T I met Besicovitch with whom I fell forthwith in love: he is just as if lifted right out of Gorki! (+ English language). And you should see his 19 yrs old wife, who knows no word of English and is too scared of all of us to talk anyhow. N and I are invited to lunch there in about 11/4 hrs. B lives 7 miles out but has a car and so has N. Also I became well acquainted with Dirac with whom I spent a number of hours - and I subscribe to anything nice that anyone wishes to say about him. And I forget old man Baker whose tea I am going to attend tomorrow. And Newman in Cambridge is quite something else again than N at P you may believe me. He took me to see Ely cathedral yesterday and as he is a lover of architecture it was a most interesting expedition?

They have here a very brilliant young fellow (rather he is at Bristol), Hodge, who has turned a first rate trick in algebraic geometry. The case is not quite clear yet, but he has so far answered all my objections and I am telling everyone how good I think he is. Also trying to make him come down to P next year, which he is very likely to do. I am other also, but Baker vaguely thinks that Rome is still something so grand that they are more likely (some of them) to go there - than which scarcely more deadly choice could be made right now.

Newman thinks that Cambridge Press should really represent us [for Princeton's Colloquium Lecture series], not B&B [Bowes and Bowes], as people think of them first always.

[Scattered impressions] How charming things are here in Cambridge, but how uncharming their imitations in Princeton! We are not , we have fine things of our own, so why imitate?

SL to OV, 3rd September, 1931 (extracts)
[From Circle des ètrangers De Monaco, Salon de Lecture]


W B D Hodge [sic] fellow St John (student of Baker), professor at Bristol and an A1 man is coming to work with me this year * [footnote: * in algebraic geometry]. For evident reasons it would be very desirable that he receive part or all of a study in Fine Hall. If any allotment is to be made, can you see to it that he is taken care of? We return so late (the 27th) that I will not be able to attend to the matter.

H is coming with Mrs H (both young Edinburghers) but does not want to have quarters secured for him and plans to find them himself. I suggested to him the Nassau Inn for a couple of days. If you hear of any possibility and can hold it sans pledges of any sort, please keep them in mind.

We are Cote D'Ezuring, as you see. It is lovely here!

GHH to OV, 30th April, [193?] [After 1933]
[On Trinity College, Cambridge notepaper]

Dear Veblen,

Could you sometime (at your leisure, but within a finite interval - and of course after consulting Alexander, Lefshetz, etc.) let me have some sort of statement about Newman's rank as a topologist?

In the first place, we want to know whether he ought to be pushed forward as a candidate for the Royal Society. On the face of it, yes: but we have no expert opinion to guide us. Newman is very obviously able and intelligent in a very high degree, but we do not know what his detailed performances amount to.

To fix standards: as analysts, Besicovitch and Titchmarsh 'walked in'. Ingham has the quality but his quantity is disappointing. [A E Ingham got in in 1945, the same year as P C Mahalanobis and R E Peierls.] Then Macaulay, Turnbull, Wedderburn, as algebraists, all got in: not a walk in any case (though no doubt in W's case at any rate it ought to have been). [J H McL Wedderburn was based in Princeton, and Veblen had sent Hardy material in support of Wedderburn's election to the Royal Society; Wedderburn got in in 1933.] There is a bit of a shortage at the moment in obvious mathematical candidates.

Secondly, Baker retires at the end of the academic year 1936. Is Newman the sort of man whom we ought to regard as one of the obvious possible successors - in particular, if it be accepted that we want a 'school of geometry' and that that school should be on more modern lines than the present? There would, I fancy, be a pretty strong consensus that we should have a 'geometer', if there were an obvious to appoint. [H F Baker's successor as Lowndean Professor of Astronomy and Geometry in 1936 was Mr W V D Hodge, who had been elected Fellow, Lecturer, and Director of Mathematical Studies at Pembroke College, Cambridge the previous year.]

Yours ever,

G H Hardy.

GHH to OV, 12th March, 1936 (extracts)


You will see that we elected Hodge. Now I can say that I wanted Newman (because of his general activity and attractiveness). But you decided me, since I guessed your reaction would be rather the same: and the election was in the end unanimous.

Poor Baker would have had hysterics if N had been elected; but he was well enough satisfied with H N would has been a most violent discontinuity, so I can sympathise.

OV to JHCW, 18th October, 1938 (extract)

I was terribly sorry that Newman's proof blew up, although I had an uneasy feeling all along that this was what was likely to happen. So far as I can make out, nobody here really spotted the difficulty, although as usual Alexander had his reservations at the right place.

JOC/EFR August 2007

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