December 28, 2014 6:52 PM   Subscribe

Supposedly, no less of a luminary than Bertrand Russell described John Maynard Keynes as 'having "the sharpest and clearest intellect" he had ever known.' Incredibly intelligent people have met and worked together for centuries: what have they had to say about each other?
posted by the man of twists and turns to Science & Nature (20 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite

You might be interested in the book Rousseau's Dog by David Edmonds and John Eidinow, which details how David Hume and Jean-Jacques Rousseau had a passionate friendship right up until they met in person, at which point their relationship went downhill in spectacular fashion.
posted by firechicago at 7:11 PM on December 28, 2014 [3 favorites]

Einstein writing to Freud
posted by Pineapplicious at 7:15 PM on December 28, 2014 [2 favorites]

Haydn and Mozart! You can probably find a lot of this kind of thing about them — for instance, this anecdote from that Wikipedia article:
At a private party a new work of Joseph Haydn was being performed. Besides Mozart there were a number of other musicians present, among them a certain man who was never known to praise anyone but himself. He was standing next to Mozart and found fault with one thing after another. For a while Mozart listened patiently; when he could bear it no longer and the fault-finder once more conceitedly declared: 'I would not have done that', Mozart retorted: 'Neither would I but do you know why? Because neither of us could have thought of anything so appropriate."
Mozart and Beethoven weren't mainly "contemporaries" — Mozart died before Beethoven had written much of note. But Mozart's reaction to his brief meeting with Beethoven is remarkable:
Beethoven made his appearance in Vienna as a youthful musician of promise in the spring of 1787, but was only able to remain there a short time; he was introduced to Mozart, and played to him at his request. Mozart, considering the piece he performed to be a studied show-piece, was somewhat cold in his expressions of admiration. Beethoven, noticing this, begged for a theme for improvisation, and, inspired by the presence of the master he revered so highly, played in such a manner as gradually to engross Mozart's whole attention; turning quietly to the bystanders, he said emphatically, "Mark that young man; he will make himself a name in the world!"
posted by John Cohen at 7:26 PM on December 28, 2014 [5 favorites]

G.K. Chesterton:
On another occasion he remarked to his friend George Bernard Shaw, "To look at you, anyone would think a famine had struck England". Shaw retorted, "To look at you, anyone would think you have caused it".
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 7:30 PM on December 28, 2014 [7 favorites]

My favourite is Pierre Berton and Peter C. Newman. On the back of "Arctic Grail" a blurb from Newman calls Berton "The Walt Disney of Canadian history." Then in Macleans I once read a quote from Berton calling Newman "The Walt Disney of Canadian history." (yeah, I know Newman writes for Macleans a lot, but I remember being surprised by the familiar quote and noting that that the authors were reversed).

I have no idea what this means, if it's intended to be good or bad, or if the second to say it was taking a jab at the first or acknowledging a tribute or what.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 7:46 PM on December 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

J.R.R. Tolkien once described his friend C.S. Lewis by saying "You'll never get to the bottom of him."
posted by 4ster at 7:49 PM on December 28, 2014 [2 favorites]

Edward Said on meeting Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir and Michel Foucault: "A bitter disappointment"
posted by gorbweaver at 8:41 PM on December 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

Well Russell of course had a number of things to say about Wittgenstein, who Keynes was taken to referring to on occasion as God (they were all at Cambridge at the same time - can you even imagine?).
posted by Lutoslawski at 9:56 PM on December 28, 2014 [2 favorites]

James Joyce and Marcel Proust met, and it didn't go especially well.
posted by Jasper Fnorde at 7:04 AM on December 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

Hemingway on Fitzgerald (From A Moveable Feast):
His talent was as natural as the pattern that was made by the dust on a butterfly's wings. At one time he understood it no more than the butterfly did and he did not know when it was brushed or marred. Later he became conscious of his damaged wings and of their construction and he learned to think and could not fly any more because the love of flight was gone and he could only remember when it had been effortless.
posted by litera scripta manet at 7:47 AM on December 29, 2014 [2 favorites]

Neils Bohr and Albert Einstein
posted by TedW at 8:04 AM on December 29, 2014

As an addendum to my previous post; in general, the community of theoretical physicists in the early 20th century was pretty tight-knit; a few of their thoughts on each other can be seen here and in the links from that page.
posted by TedW at 8:23 AM on December 29, 2014

Voltaire had great friendships and exchanged many letters with both Frederick the Great and Catherine the Great.

Rachmaninoff, who was known for being very reserved, cried at the debut of Vaughan Williams' 'Serenade to Music' and said it was the most moving piece he'd ever heard.
posted by nakedmolerats at 8:54 AM on December 29, 2014

J.M. Keynes on W.H. Auden:
Most charming, intelligent, straightforward, youthful .. altogether delightful, but but but -- his fingernails are eaten to the bones with dirt and wet, one of the worst cases ever, like a preparatory schoolboy. It was most disconcerting. All other impressions so favourable. But those horrid fingers cannot lie. They must be believed.
posted by verstegan at 10:19 AM on December 29, 2014

You may be able to draw some more recent connections via the photographs over at Awesome People Hanging Out Together.
posted by Happy Dave at 2:19 PM on December 29, 2014

I was just listening to an episode of In Our Time about Alexander von Humboldt; according to a botanical illustration blog, Charles Darwin said of Humboldt, "He was the greatest travelling scientist who ever lived ... I have always admired him; now I worship him."

According to that podcast, Goethe said that one could learn more from an hour in Humboldt's company than 8 days studying books; a Metabiography of Humboldt has Goethe saying, "He has not his equal in knowledge and living wisdom. ... On whatever point you approach him, he is at home, and lavishes upon us his intellectual treasures."

The Wikipedia article lists Recognitions by contemporaries, including Simon Bolívar and Thomas Jefferson.

There are several references to him being described as "the last man who knew everything," but I can't find a source.
posted by kristi at 3:54 PM on December 29, 2014

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