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Chen, H. Yorick Smythies. Encyclopedia. Available online: (accessed on 01 December 2023).
Chen H. Yorick Smythies. Encyclopedia. Available at: Accessed December 01, 2023.
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Yorick Smythies
wittgenstein philosopher yorick

1. Introduction

Yorick Smythies (21 February 1917 – 1980) was a student and friend of Ludwig Wittgenstein known for his notes of the philosopher's lectures. He was also a friend of, and character inspiration for, the novelist (and philosopher) Iris Murdoch.

2. Life

2.1. Childhood

Yorick Smythies was born on 21 February 1917 in Shanklin on the Isle of Wight[1] where Yorick's maternal grandparents were living at the time.[2] Yorick was the first child of Kate Marjorie "Joe" Smythies née Gouldsmith,[2] (1892–1975)[3] and Cmdr Bernard Edward Smythies DFC who had been born in 1886 in Dehradum, India.[4] Bernard, the younger brother of E. A. Smythies and elder brother of Richard Dawkins' paternal grandmother Edith,[5] was a decorated Royal Air Force pilot who was killed in a flying accident at North Weald Airfield on 17 June 1930.[6][7] As well as being survived by his wife, son, and brother, Bernard "Bunny" Smythies would be survived by his father Arthur Smythies (1847- 1934) and by his daughter, Yorick's younger sister. Yorick was educated at Harrow.[5][8][9]

2.2. University

Smythies began the Moral Sciences Tripos at King's College, Cambridge in 1935, graduating with a First in philosophy in 1939.[10]

Smythies attended, and took detailed notes of, Max Newman's 1935 lecture course on logic.[11][12] Smythies also attended Wittgenstein's lectures in the academic year 1935/36 but (Wittgenstein not normally allowing students to take them in class) his notes of those lectures are sketchy.[1] He began to take more detailed notes of Wittgenstein's lectures from 1938[1] and (although he completed his formal studies in 1939) he continued to do so through the academic year of 1939/1940 and took some further notes during a temporary return to Cambridge between late 1940 and early 1941.[1] (Though Smythies attended lectures by Wittgenstein between 1945 and 1947, according to Volker A. Munz, he "seems to have made little or no notes" during this last period of Wittgenstein's professorship.[1])

Being one of the few students Wittgenstein allowed to take lecture notes (and, at times, the only one),[13] his notes became key sources for the reconstruction of Wittgenstein's lectures. During his lifetime, some of Smythies' notes were incorporated into Lectures and Conversations on Aesthetics, Psychology and Religious Belief (1966) and Lectures on the Foundations of Mathematics (1976) both being works edited by others. Further notes of Wittgenstein's lectures taken by Smythies were published in 1988 as Lectures on Freedom of the Will.[1] However, a large body of notes, mostly from the period 1938 to 1940, which Smythies called the Whewell's Court Lectures (after the location at Trinity College, Cambridge where Wittgenstein's lectures were held) were only published in 2017 under the editorship of Volker A. Munz and his assistant Bernhard Ritter.[1]

Smythies also became a close friend to Wittgenstein. They conducted an intense written correspondence (most of it now thought lost).[10] And Smythies was, with a few other former students, at Wittgenstein's bedside around the time of his death.[14]

Although Smythies delivered talks to the Cambridge Moral Sciences Club,[15][16] taught philosophy part-time at Oxford in 1944 (on the philosophy of George Berkeley[1]) and for Advanced Student Summer Courses between 1955 and 1957 he never became a professional lecturer and worked mainly as a librarian (latterly at the department of social studies at the University of Oxford).[10] And although he wrote philosophy of his own, some intended for publication, only a review of Bertrand Russell's History of Western Philosophy is known to have been published during his lifetime.[1] Smythies' review of the History was, as Ray Monk records, particularly "scathing" (and one Russell kept a copy of).[17][18]

2.3. Religion

Like G.E.M. Anscombe, Smythies was a convert to Catholicism.[13]

2.4. Mental Health

Ray Monk's claim[19] (repeated by Peter J. Conradi[13] and Valerie Purton[20]) that Smythies suffered from (paranoid) schizophrenia is disputed by Volker A. Munz.[10] Neither Monk nor Munz offer any explanation for why Smythies might been thought to suffer from this condition, nor, accordingly, does Munz offer any alternative diagnosis. Conradi however identifies a "schizophrenic breakdown" as the cause of Yorick 'hiding behind trees' and "making strange utterances" and mentions time spent by him in a mental hospital.[13] An explanation is offered by Yorick's first cousin, the neuropsychiatrist J. R. Smythies who, also disputing Monk's claims of schizophrenia, claimed that, prescribed amphetamines for depression, Yorick Smythies became dependent on them and subsequently developed a "wholly iatrogenic" chronic paranoid amphetamine psychosis.[21]

2.5. Marriages

Smythies married his first wife Diana Pollard[20] (known as 'Polly'[9]) in 1944, in Oxford.[22][23] Diana was the daughter of the British Intelligence officer Hugh Pollard and had, aged eighteen, accompanied her father in posing as tourists to 'camouflage' the covert flight from England that collected General Franco from his 'semi-banishment' in the Canary Islands and took him to Spanish Morocco in 1936.[24][25] The marriage would end in divorce but Diana continued to live in North Oxford until her death in 2003.[23]

In 1974 Smythies married his second wife, Margaret 'Peg' Smythies née Britton (the ex-wife of Barry Pink, a friend to both Wittgenstein and Yorick) by whom Yorick had already had a son Daniel in 1963.[26][27] Peg would survive Yorick and go on to marry another friend and former student of Wittgenstein, the philosopher Rush Rhees.[26][27] Peg would also survive Rhees (who died in 1989) dying in May 2014[26][27] having lived latterly in Amberley, Gloucestershire, near Stroud.[28][29]

2.6. Death

Volker A. Munz, insists (contrary to the claims of Ray Monk[19]) that "there were no tragic circumstances" surrounding Smythies death, reporting: "Having been afflicted with emphisema for about five years and knowing not to live much longer he died in 1980."[10] Yorick is registered as dying late that year, in, or near, Chipping Norton.[30]

3. In Literature

Smythies was the basis for the character Hugo Belfounder in the novel Under the Net (1954) by Iris Murdoch.[13][20][31] When Smythies died in 1980 Murdoch wrote the character's death into her novel The Philosopher's Pupil which she was then composing.[13][20]

Further Reading
In this part, we encourage you to list the link of papers wrote by the character, or published reviews/articles about his/her academic contributions. Edit


  1. Munz, Volker A.; Ritter, Bernhard. "Yorick Smythies (1917–1980) | Wittgenstein's Whewell's Court Lectures" (in en-US).
  2. Aeronautics. King Sell & Olding, Limited. 8 March 1916. "An engagement is announced between Captain B. E. Smythies, Royal Engineers and Royal Flying Corps, son of Mr. and Mrs A. Smythies of Dolton, North Devon, and Kate Marjorie ("Joe"), younger daughter of Mr and Mrs. W. A. Gouldsmith, of The Bungalow, Shanklin, Isle of Wight." [engagement also announced in The Aeroplane, Temple Press, v.10 1916
  3. Fenn, Edward Liveing. "The King's Candlesticks: Pedigrees Kate Marjorie GOULDSMITH [22383"]. "Born: 1892.. Marriage: Cmdr Bernard Edward SMYTHIES DFC ... on 18 May 1916 in Holy Trinity Brompton Road Kensington, Died: 1975 aged 83" 
  4. Edward Liveing Fenn ©. "The King's Candlesticks: Pedigrees Cmdr Bernard Edward SMYTHIES DFC [22382"]. "Born: 9 Dec 1886, Dehradum India, Marriage: Kate Marjorie GOULDSMITH .. on 18 May 1916 in Holy Trinity Brompton Road Kensington, Died: 17 Jun 1930, North Weald ESS aged 43 ... in a tragic flying accident ...." 
  5. Dawkins, Richard, 1941- (2013). An Appetite for Wonder : the making of a scientist : a memoir. London. pp. 12–13, 23–24 [also: family tree in front matter; photo inserts]. ISBN 9780552779050. OCLC 870425057. "Yorick Smythies, another first cousin of my father, was a devoted amanuensis of the philosopher Wittgenstein.. dissuaded by Wittgenstein (along with most of his other pupils) from a career in philosophy, Yorick worked as a librarian in the Oxford forestry department ... He had eccentric habits, took to snuff and Roman Catholicism, and died tragically. … Yorick, as I have already mentioned, was eccentric and possibly unhappy; but then, he went to Harrow, which – to say nothing of the pressures of association with Wittgenstein - might explain everything."
  7. "CRASHED INTO ROLLER - Airman Killed". Daily News (Perth, WA : 1882 - 1950): pp. 10. 1930-10-20. "While taking off in an aeroplane recently, at North Weald Aerodrome, Essex, Wing-Commander B. E. Smythies, D.F.C., struck a cricket-pitch roller which he had not seen, states the 'Daily Mail'. The impact caused the machine to burst into flames. The mechanic, A.C. Holben, was slightly injured and got free, but Wing-Commander Smythies was so badly burend [sic] that he died 15 minutes later. Wing-Commander Smythies won the D.F.C. for his war service in France.This year he was awarded the first prize in the R. N. Groves Memorial Essay competition." 
  8. Paul, Denis, 1925-2006. (2007). Wittgenstein's Progress, 1929-1951. Bergen: The Wittgenstein Archives at the University of Bergen. pp. 43. ISBN 9788291071220. OCLC 316829000. "I also suspect that the spelling "Escalibur" is Smythies-Harrovian taken down by ear." 
  9. King's College, Cambridge Annual Report 2008, pp. 206-206
  10. "Ludwig Wittgenstein and Yorick Smythies. A hitherto Unknown Relationship, Volker A. Munz, From the ALWS archives: A selection of papers from the International Wittgenstein Symposia in Kirchberg am Wechsel". 
  11. Floyd, Juliet, ed (2017). Philosophical Explorations of the Legacy of Alan Turing. Boston Studies in the Philosophy and History of Science. 324. Cham: Springer International Publishing. pp. 124 (fn.60). doi:10.1007/978-3-319-53280-6. ISBN 9783319532783. "We note that Yorick Smythics, Wittgenstein's main amenuensis for his lectures 1938-1941... took down notes of Max Newman's 1935 logic course (now located at St. John's College, Library, Cambridge)." 
  12. Matthias Baaz; Christos H. Papadimitriou; Hilary W. Putnam; Dana S. Scott; Charles L. Harper, Jr (6 June 2011). Kurt Gödel and the Foundations of Mathematics: Horizons of Truth. Cambridge University Press. p. 152. ISBN 978-1-139-49843-2. 
  13. Conradi, Peter (2011). Broakes, Justin. ed. Holy Fool and Magus: the uses of discipleship in 'Under the net' and 'The flight from the enchanter'. Oxford University Press. pp. 125–126. ISBN 9780199289905. Retrieved 2019-05-29. 
  14. Labron, Tim (2009-03-15) (in en). Wittgenstein and Theology. A&C Black. pp. 19. ISBN 9780567601056. "That night of 28 April 1951, he lost consciousness. When Ben, Anscombe, Smythies and Drury arrived, Smythies had also invited Father Conrad. The friends debated whether or not Father Conrad should proceed with prayers and rituals and the usual rites for the dying. It is clear that they did not regard Wittgenstein as obviously opposed to Christianity, but not exactly a Christian either. Eventually they decided to proceed since, as Drury remembered, Wittgenstein hoped that his friends prayed for him. In 1944, Wittgenstein remarked, 'I seem to be surrounded now by Roman Catholic converts! I don't know whether they pray for me. I hope they do.' Wittgenstein died that morning and was given a Catholic burial at St Giles Church, Cambridge." 
  15. Smythies, Yorick, 1917-1980 (2017-04-05). "Editorial Introduction". Wittgenstein's Whewell's Court Lectures : Cambridge, 1938-1941, from the notes by Yorick Smythies. Munz, Volker A.,, Ritter, Bernhard, 1973-. Malden, MA. pp. xvi. doi:10.1002/9781119166399.fmatter. ISBN 9781119166382. OCLC 981912203. 
  16. Smythies, Yorick (2017-03-31). "Wittgenstein's Reply to a Paper by Y. Smythies on ‘Understanding’" (in en). Wittgenstein's Whewell's Court Lectures: Cambridge, 1938 - 1941, From the Notes by Yorick Smythies. John Wiley & Sons. pp. 187–188. ISBN 978-1-119-16634-4. 
  17. Monk, Ray. (2000). Bertrand Russell: The Ghost Of Madness 1921-1970.. London: Free Press. pp. 296. ISBN 1501153773. OCLC 945745516. "Russell was hurt, disappointed and bewildered by the cool reception his work received from philosophers in the period after the Second World War. He kept a copy of Malcolm's review of Human Knowledge, which he annotated, and a copy of an even more scathing review, this time of History of Western Philosophy, written by another of Wittgenstein's friends and disciples, Yorick Smythies. History of Western Philosophy, Smythies wrote, `embodies what seem to me the worst features of Lord Russell's previous more journalistic works, but it is of poorer quality than any of these'. Severely criticising both the style and content of the book, Smythies concluded: 'I fear that Lord Russell's book will teach successfully a popular substitute for thinking and for knowledge, and that it will both appeal to and stimulate slipshod thinking.'"
  18. Yorick Smythies, review of Bertrand Russell, The History of Western Philosophy, Changing World, no. 1, Summer 1947, pp. 72-88
  19. Monk, Ray (31 March 2012). Ludwig Wittgenstein: The Duty of Genius. Random House. pp. 402–403. ISBN 978-1-4481-1267-8. "Smythies is one of those mysterious figures who are referred to repeatedly in the published texts, but about whom little is ever said. He was a devoted disciple of Wittgenstein's and a truly Wittgensteinian character in the sense that, though he never became a professional philosopher, he never ceased to think seriously and deeply about philosophical problems. He remained a close friend of Wittgenstein's for the rest of Wittgenstein's life. When he left Cambridge he became a librarian at Oxford. In later life he suffered from paranoid schizophrenia and became a patient of Maurice Drury. He died in tragic circumstances ..." 
  20. Purton, V. (2007) (in en). An Iris Murdoch Chronology. Springer. pp. 233. ISBN 9780230597983. "[Yorick Smythies] gained a First in philosophy and was a conscientious objector during the war. His father had been a distinguished RAF pilot who was killed in a flying accident. Smythies himself suffered from crippling timidity and only once went abroad. Wittgenstein wrote a warm testimonial for him, helping him find a job as a librarian. He was received into the Roman Catholic Church and married Diana Pollard, but later left her for the wife of a good friend. He failed in an attempt to become a bus conductor, suffered a schizophrenic breakdown and spent time in a mental hospital. His notes from Wittgenstein's lectures were published, and he also wrote a very negative review of Bertrand Russell's History of Western Philosophy. IM modelled Hugo Belfounder in Under the Net on him and when he died in 1980, she recorded the death in the novel she was writing, The Philosopher's Pupil, as the death of Hugo Belfounder." 
  21. Smythies, J. R. (1994). "Alas, poor Yorick" (in en). Nature 371 (6497): 470. doi:10.1038/371470d0. ISSN 1476-4687. PMID 7935754. Bibcode: 1994Natur.371..470S. "my cousin Yorick Smythies ... did not suffer from paranoid schizophrenia ... it is clear that his original symptom was depression for which his doctor unfortunately prescribed amphetamines to which Yorick became addicted ... and subsequently he developed a wholly iatrogenic chronic paranoid amphetamine psychosis.".
  22. Edward Liveing Fenn ©. "The King's Candlesticks: Pedigrees Diana Helen POLLARD [22430"]. "Born: 1916, Marriage: Yorick SMYTHIES .. in 1944 in Oxford, Died: 2003 aged 87" 
  23. Day, Peter (2012). Franco's Friends: How British Intelligence Helped Bring Franco to Power in Spain. London: Biteback. pp. 166–167. ISBN 9781849543613. OCLC 798411491. "Diana had married Yorick in Oxford early in 1944. It is easy to see why he and Hugh Pollard might not get along. Yorick was a pacifist philosopher, ... and a friend of the novelist Iris Murdoch, who described him as ... pure of heart. ... Diana's cousin Colin Davis has fond memories of her: ... 'Diana's politics were very much to the left of her father's.... She was certainly not an admirer of Franco. She said to me that they had fallen on the wrong side. I think she had the idea [on the flight] that she was not being told everything ... Yorick was a very pleasant man and a great philosopher but my uncle was very much a military man and he didn't want to fraternise with Yorick' ... The marriage did not last but Diana Smythies continued to live in North Oxford for the rest of her life. She died in 2003." 
  24. Jackson, Angela (2002). British Women and the Spanish Civil War. London: Routledge. pp. 88–89. ISBN 0203219597. OCLC 56924524. "[Major Hugh Pollard's] eighteen-year-old daughter, Diana Smythies ... acted as 'camouflage' in a plan to fly Franco from his semi-banishment in the Canary Isles to North Africa... taking her best summer apparel ... in order to act the part of a tourist and make it ... more convincing that the group were on holiday. ... Diana Smythies recalled that although she didn't have any particular wish for this adventure, it was difficult to refuse, ... Diana Smythies carried secret papers for Franco hidden in a copy of Vogue, feeling 'very unreal'... The mission was completed successfully ... and the course of the war changed ... [she was] later offered a decoration of 'Golden or Red Arrows' by Franco for [her] efforts .... However, Diana Smythies wanted no further involvement with the war, 'I thought, never again, no more adventures of this kind'." 
  25. "Smythies, Diana (Oral history)" (in en). 
  26. "About" (in en-US). 
  27. Hayes, John (2018). "Wittgenstein's Irish Cottage". History Ireland 26 (4): 36–38. ISSN 0791-8224.
  28. "P SMYTHIES" (in en). 
  29. "Peg Smythies" (in en). 
  30. "Index entry". FreeBMD. ONS. 
  31. Colin Wilson (2007). The Angry Years: The Rise and Fall of the Angry Young Men. Robson. p. 163. ISBN 978-1-86105-972-7. "The centre of gravity of the novel ['Under The Net'] is a philosopher named Hugo Belfounder, based upon Iris's friend Yorick Smythies, who had been a pupil and friend of Ludwig Wittgenstein." 
Name: Yorick Smythies
Born: Feb 1917
Title: Unknown
Affiliation: Unknown
Honor: Unknown
Subjects: Philosophy
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Entry Collection: HandWiki
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Update Date: 30 Nov 2022