Ludwig Wittgenstein: A Chronology of his Life & Work

Ex-philosopher, Schoolteacher, Gardener, Architect, 1919-1926

Monday 25th August, 1919: LW arrives back in Vienna. ‘There he was reunited with his brother Paul, who had lost his right arm on the Eastern Front’ (Gilbert 1994, p.520).

LW opens a letter from Vienna to his friend Paul Engelmann ‘As you see I am here!’. He tells Engelmann that there is no end of things he wants to talk to him about. But he also reports that he is not very well as far as his state of mind goes. (McGuinness (p.277) counts LW’s return as a crisis in his life). He asks Engelmann to come to him soon, and to give his ‘sincere and humble regards to your revered mother’ (Engelmann, p.17).

Late August or early September, 1919: Probably during a short stay at Neuwaldegg, LW gives his entire inheritance to his sisters Helen and Hermine, and his brother Paul (McGuinness, p.278; Monk, p.171; Kanterian, p.90; Waugh, pp.140-1). (McGuinness explains that ‘He had gone into the army to suffer with the people: he could not now return to privilege’ (p.277). ‘At first he simply came to the bank and announced, to general consternation, that he did not want his money. Long discussions with the family lawyers were necessary before they could be brought to realize, as one put it, that he wanted to commit financial suicide’ (p.278)).

Late August or early September, 1919: LW briefly contemplates becoming a priest (McGuinness, p.279; Kanterian, p.90)

Monday 1st September, 1919: LW’s sister Hermine writes a letter to him from their family house at Neuwaldegg, beginning by saying she was shocked not to find him there when she arrived. She says she would not have gone to the Hochreith with her sons had she known that these were going to be her last few days with LW.

Hermine then expresses regret that she was not around when LW spoke to their siblings about giving away his inheritance, and says she does not understand why he passed over their sister Gretl (Margaret). She deeems this ‘an enormous slight – not because of the money, but because it’s wounding to be “disinherited”’. She asks LW to consider the matter from this perspective, unless he is pursuing some purpose in this. She explains that all he had to do was to write Gretl a few lines ‘saying you’re not trying to slight her here and that you’re doing it because we shall lose a large part of our money, which won’t happen with her’. Hermine closes by noting that she will see LW this evening ‘at Max’s’, but that she didn’t want to say any of this to him in front of the men (WFL, p.67).

Tuesday 2nd September, 1919: LW writes to Paul Engelmann, thanking him for his latest letter (which is now lost), but explaining that he cannot come to Olmütz in the near future. He says that tomorrow he will be going to the Hochreith for 8-10 days, ‘to find something of myself again if I can. And after that I shall embark on a career. What career? You have time to guess till you come and visit me’. LW then says that a few days ago he looked up their mutual acquaintance, the architect Adolf Loos, but that he was horrified and nauseated, since Loos ‘has become infected with the most virulent and bogus intellectualism!’ Loos had given LW a pamphlet (Der Staat und die Kunst) about a proposed ‘fine arts office’, in which he spoke about ‘a sin against the Holy Ghost’ (McGuinness explains that Loos had said that it would be a sin against the Holy Ghost for the State, as opposed to an individual, to fail to recognise a true artist). LW exclaims that he had been a bit depressed when he went to see Loos, but that this was the limit, the last straw. He then tells Engelmann that there is very much that he wants to talk to him about. A few days ago he had given a copy of his Abhandlung to the Vienna publisher Braumüller (the publisher of Otto Weininger’s book Sex and Character (1903)), but Braumüller has not yet made up his mind whether to accept it.

LW closes by asking Engelmann to give his sincere thanks to his mother for some kind lines she had written to LW, and says he is looking forward to seeing Engelmann again. (Engelmann, p.17-19, McGuinness, pp.277, 291).

Early to mid-September 1919:LW enrols in the Lehrerbildungsanstalt (a teacher-training college for elementary school teachers) in Vienna’s third district, ‘just across the street from where he and Engelmann would one day build a house for Mrs. Stonborough’ (McGuinness, pp.280-282; Monk, p.171).

Mid-September 1919: LW moves out of his family’s lavish homes, and begins to live in lodgings near the teacher-training college at 9, Untere Viaduktgasse, Vienna (McGuinness, p.278; Monk, p.171; Luckhardt, p.94). (But he stays there only for just over one month (ibid., p.283)). 


Tuesday 16th September, 1919: LW begins his teacher-training (WFL, p.66 note 19).

He also writes to Gottlob Frege, acknowledging receipt of an offprint of ‘Der Gedanke’, which Frege had published in the journal Beiträgen zur Philosophie des Deutschen Idealismus, and asks Frege whether he might help getting the Abhandlung published in that journal (Monk, pp.174-5; Künne 2009, pp.31-2).

Frege writes his fourth known letter to LW, querying his description of the purpose of the Abhandlung (Janik 1989, pp.21-22, Künne 2009, p.31).

Thursday 25th September, 1919: LW writes to Paul Engelmann, noting that a few days ago Max Zweig, a friend of theirs from the Olmütz circle, had written to say that he was expectingLW in Olmütz, and therefore that Zweig had gathered from LW’s latest letter to Engelmann exactly the opposite of what it had said. He wonders whether Engelmann had done the same, but explains that he really cannot come, because he has taken up a career. Not wanting to keep Engelmann guessing any more, LW reveals that he is attending a teachers’ training college in order to become a schoolmaster. ‘So once again I sit in a schoolroom, and this sounds funnier than it is. In fact I find it terribly hard; I can no longer behave like a grammar-school boy, and – funny as it sounds – the humiliation is so great for me that often I think I can hardly bear it!’ Although a trip to Olmütz now is out of the question, LW says he very much wants to see Engelmann, and asks him ‘if at all possible’ to come to Vienna. He also entreats Engelmann to write to him at once, and sends his new address (Flat III, 9, Untere Viaduktgasse, c/o Frau Wonicek). Finally, he parenthetically remarks that his circumstances have changed in general, ‘except that I am no wiser than I was’. (Engelmann, p.19; McGuinness, p.282).

Tuesday 30th September, 1919: Gottlob Frege responds to LW in his fifth known letter to him, with editorial advice about where to publish the Abdhandlung (Janik 1989, pp.23-24, Künne 2009, p.32, Dreben & Floyd, pp.60-3). Frege suggests that he might contact a Professor Bauch, in Jena, in order to facilitate its publication in the Beiträgen zur Philosophie des Deutschen Idealismus. (This was the German neo-Kantian philosopher Bruno Bauch: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bruno_Bauch ). He says: ‘I could write to him that I have come to know you as a thinker to be taken rather seriously. About the treatise itself I can render no judgment, not because I am not in agreement with the content, but because the content is not sufficiently clear to me. If we were only able to reach agreement about the use of words perhaps we would find that we do not differ with one another substantially’. Frege does worry, too, that the manuscript would take up an entire issue of the journal, and he suggests that it should therefore be split into parts. ‘You write in your Preface that that the truth of the thoughts communicated seems to you unassailable and definitive. Could not then one of these thoughts, in which the solution of a philosophical problem is contained, be taken as the object of a treatise, so that the whole would be divided into so many parts, just as philosophical problems are treated?’. He also worries that in theAbhandlung’s first propositions instead of finding a question or a problem, one is confronted with what appear to be assertions, ‘in urgent need of justification, but given with none’. He closes by asking LW not to take offence at his remarks, which are made with good intentions.

LW writes, from Vienna, to Ludwig von Ficker, explaining that about a year ago he finished writing a philosophical work, detailing some of his attempts to get it published, and asking von Ficker whether Der Brenner might publish it (Luckhardt, pp.92-4; Kanterian, p.85; Monk, p.176). He reports to von Ficker that the editor of Beiträgen zur Philosophie des Deutschen Idealismus had proposed publishing the Abhandlung but only in a form that LW regarded as mutilated ‘from beginning to end’ (Luckhardt, p.93; Künne 2009, p.32). LW also mentions that he is going to the Teacher’s College in Vienna (Luckhardt, p.94).

Wednesday 1st October, 1919: P.E.B.Jourdain, whom LW had consulted in Cambridge between 1909 and 1914, dies. Jourdain had suffered from and had been disabled by Friedreich’s ataxia.

Monday 6th October, 1919: LW writes to Bertrand Russell, frustrated that Frege apparently hadn’t understood a word of his work (Künne 2009, p.32). He starts by thanking Russell for his letter of mid-September, and notes that his publisher received Russell’s testimonial long ago but ‘still has not written to me to say whether and under what conditions he will take my book (the swine!)’. LW says he thinks he will be able to come to The Hague to meet Russell at Christmas time. He tells Russell he has made up his mind to become a teacher and so must return to school ‘at a so-called Teachers’ Training College’. ‘The benches are full of boys of 17 or 18 and I’ve reached 30. ‘That leads to some very funny situations – and many very unpleasant ones too. I often feel miserable!’. LW ends by noting that he is in corresponence with Frege, who ‘doesn’t understand a single word of my work’, and that he is thoroughly exhausted from giving what are purely and simply explanations. Finally he asks after Alfred North Whitehead and W.E.Johnson (Wittgenstein in Cambrdige, p.103).

November, 1919: LW leaves his lodgings near the treacher-training college to move in with some family-friends, the Sjögren family (Mima Sjögren and her two sons Talla and Arvid) in St. Veitgasse, Hietzing, Vienna (Monk, p.180). There he befriends Arvid Sjögren (Monk, p.181).

Early November, 1919: LW again writes, from the Sjögrens, to Ludwig von Ficker, for the first time in four years, sending him a copy of the manuscript of the Abhandlung. ‘Why didn’t I immediately think of you?’, he wonders, then recalling that he did think of von Ficker, but that that had been at a time when his book wasn’t yet finished, and the war was still on. He remarks that he is now pinning his hopes on von Ficker for its publication.

LW then feels it will be helpful if he says a few words about his book, since he expects that von Ficker will not get much out of reading it, since he won’t understand it, the content being strange to him. ‘In reality it isn’t strange to you, for the point of the book is ethical. I once wanted to give a few words in the foreword which now actually are not in it, which, however, I’ll write to you now because they might be a key for you: I wanted to write that my work consists of two parts: of the one which is here, and of everything which I have notwritten. And precisely this second part is the important one. For the Ethical is delimited from within, as it were, by my book; and I’m convinced that, strictly speaking, it can ONLY be delimited in this way. In brief, I think: All of that which many are babbling today, I have defined in my book by remaining silent about it. Therefore the book will, unless I’m quite wrong, have much to say which you want to say yourself, but perhaps you won’t notice that it is said in it. For the time being, I’d recommendd that you read the foreword and the conclusion since these express the point most directly’.

LW then explains that the manuscript he is sending is not the corrected version, only a hastily corrected copy, but that the properly corrected version is in England with Russell, who will be sending it back shortly.

In a postscript to this letter, he gives his address as ‘XIII, St. Veitgasse 17, c/o Mrs. Sjögren (Luckhardt, pp.94-5).

Tuesday 11th November, 1919: Bertrand Russell posts the properly-corrected copy of the manuscript of LW’s Abhandlung back to him. 

Thursday 13th November, 1919: Bertrand Russell writes to LW, from Battersea, noting first that he was only able to post the manuscript of the Abhandlung back to LW two days ago, since there had been difficulties at the post office. He says he is looking forward to seeing LW more than he can say, but warns that it is possible that he may be refused a passport (because of his wartime incarceration).

Russell then records that he has written to the Cambridge furniture dealers LW had in mind, B. Jolley & Son, saying he has LW’s authority to have his things sold. But Russell is concerned that they may refuse to accept his authority, so he asks LW to write to them to the same effect, too. If the sale of LW’s goods is not completed when Russell comes to Holland, he undertakes to give LW in advance whatever sum the books and furniture are judged to be worth, and he notes that their sale ought easily to pay LW’s expenses (Wittgenstein in Cambridge, p.107).

Sunday 16th November, 1919:LW writes a letter to Paul Engelmann, in which he starts by saying that a few days ago he received a letter Engelmann had sent him (a letter which has not survived), and thanking him for that. He empathises with Engelmann, saying that his own state of mind has been similar since his return from the prisoner-of-war camp. ‘What happens, I believe, is this: we do not advance towards our goal by the direct road – for this we (or at any rate I) have not got the strength. Instead we walk up all sorts of tracks and byways, and so long as we are making some headway we are in reasonably good shape. But whenever such a track comes to an end we are up against it; only then do we realise that we are not at all where we ought to be. – This, at least, is how the matter looks to me’.

LW then says he has a great urge to see and speak with Engelmann. He warns Englemann, though, that he will see just how far LW has gone downhill from the fact that he has ‘on several occasions’ thought about taking his own life. ‘Not from my despair about my own badness but for purely purely external reasons. Whether a talk with you would help me to some extent is doubtful, but not impossible’. So he asks Englemann to come to see him soon (Engelmann, p.21; McGuinness, p.281).

Friday 21st November, 1919: LW writes to Bertrand Russell, thanking him for returning the manuscript of the Abhandlung, which he received today. He notes that he has as yet only leafed through it and found two remarks in Russell’s handwriting, and he expresses his intention of talking about everything when they meet in The Hague. LW says he has his passport ready, that he also hopes to get an entrance-permit to Holland, and that he cannot wait to see Russell. He asks Russell whether he received his last letter (of November 1st), in which he asked Russell to sell his things in Cambridge, ‘if they still exist’, and to bring the proceeds to Holland, since he has some difficulties with money.

He closes by asking Russell to write soon, giving him (again) his new address in the Veitgasse, and signs off ‘Warmest regards from your devoted friend’ (Wittgenstein in Cambridge, p.108).

Saturday 22nd November, 1919: LW, having received a letter from Ludwig von Ficker which must have been pessimistic about the prospects for publishing the Abhandlung, replies (von Ficker’s letter has not survived). He begins by saying that von Ficker’s letter wasn’t pleasant for him, although he wasn’t really surprised by its answer. LW says that he, too, doesn’t know where he can get his work accepted and remarks ‘If I myself were only somewhere else than in this lousy world!’.

LW tells von Ficker that although he can if he wishes show the manuscript to a philosophy professor, that would be to cast pearls before swine, and ‘he won’t understand a word of it’.

Finally, LW asks von Ficker ‘only one more request: Make it short and sweet with me. Tell me “no” quickly, rather than too slowly’, explaining that his nerves are not strong enough at the moment to bear such Austrian sensitivity (Luckhardt, p.95).

Monday 24th November, 1919: Russell writes to LW, from Battersea, saying he now has his passport but is having great difficulties getting a Dutch visa. He contemplates the possibility that they may not both be able to get visas, and says that in that case their meeting will have to wait until Easter, when they might meet in Switzerland. Russell says he will be very sorry if that happens, but he has found out that it is much easier to get to Switzerland than to Holland.

Russell then tells LW that Jolley & Son, the Cambridge furniture dealers, are offering £80 for his furniture, not including his books. He says that if he goes back to Cambridge, which he may, he would be glad to take LW’s furniture, or part of it. So he asks LW if it would suit him if he was to pay him £100 for the furniture and the books (not including any special books he might want returned). Russell says he doesn’t know whether it is legally possible to pay LW yet, but that he will find out. He advises LW that he would have to write to Jolley & Sons to say that he had sold the furniture and books to Russell.

Russell closes his letter by asking LW to let him know as son as possible whether he can get his visa, and says that it would be a great disappointment if they do have to put off their meeting until the spring (Wittgenstein in Cambridge, p.109).

Thursday 27th November, 1919: LW writes to Paul Engelmann, who is planning to visit Vienna to see him (as LW entreated him to do in his letter of 16th November). LW explains first that because he goes to a school in town every morning, and it will be best for Engelmann to eat lunch time and evening meals at the Wittgenstein family home in the Alleegasse, he is not going to book a room for Engelmann in Hietzing (where LW is living), but one in the IVth District (in which the Alleegasse is located). Because he doesn’t yet know where this will be, he asks Engelmann to come straight from the rail station to the Alleegasse house, where he will be given further details. LW says he is looking forward ‘with joy’ to Engelmann’s arrival, and that he has troubles with his book which give him no joy at all (Engelmann, pp.21, 23).

LW writes to Bertrand Russell, thanking him for his letter (the one from 13th November, not the more recent one from the 24th), and wishing ‘If only you are able to come to The Hague!’. He asks Russell to wire him immediately he knows, since he has his own passport ready and has stated his intention of being in The Hague from December 13th to 20th. A new change of date would give rise to great difficulties, he declares, so he asks Russell not to keep him waiting for news.

LW agrees with Russell that the Cambridge furniture dealer he meant is Jolley, but thinks they will be satisfied with Russell’s authority (!).

He then notes that the difficulties with his book have started up again, nobody wanting to publish it. He recalls times when Russell was always pressing him to publish something, ‘And now when I should like to, it can’t be managed. The devil take it!’.

He asks Russell to leave his address at the Austrian Legation when he does arrive in The Hague, so that he can find it there. Again he closes ‘Warmest regards from your devoted friend’ (Wittgenstein in Cambridge, p.110).

On this same day, Russell writes to LW, saying he now has his passport and visa, and that he informed the authorities that his business was to see LW. He suggests that LW should arrive on December 11th, since he is not sure what day he will be able to get away.

Russell tells LW that he will buy his furniture from him, to pay his expenses. He doesn’t yet know where he will stay in The Hague, but will leave a letter at Poste Restante addressed to him, to say where he is staying if LW arrives after him. If LW arrives before him, though, Russell asks him to do likewise. Russell says he can’t tell LW how much he is looking forward to seeing him; ‘you have been in my thoughts so much through this long time’ (Wittgenstein in Cambridge, p.111).

Late November or (more probably) early December 1919: LW’s friend Paul Engelmann visits him, in Vienna, for a short meeting.

Thursday 4th December, 1919: LW writes to Ludwig von Ficker, who had that same day answered LW’s ‘threatening letter’ (of 22nd November) with a friendly telegram. He expresses the hope that von Ficker would publish the book because he considers it to be worthwhile, rather than just in order to do LW a favour. How can he recommend his work to von Ficker, LW asks? ‘I think in all such cases it is so: A book, even when it is written completely honestly, is always worthless from one standpoint: for no-one would really need to write a book because there are quite other things to do in this world. On the other hand, I think I can say that if you print Dallago(https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carl_Dallago ), Haecker (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theodor_Haecker ), et al., then you can also print my book. And that is also everything that I can say as a justification of my wish, because if one measures my book with an absolute measure, then God only knows where it will come to be’ (Luckhardt, p.96).

Friday 5th December, 1919: LW writes again to von Ficker, having received his letter of November 28th, in which von Ficker must have agreed to publish the Abhandlung and to bear the costs if its publication was a failure. LW declines this offer. ‘The sacrifice which you want to chance for me, if everything goes wrong, I can, of course, not accept. I couldn’t accept the responsibility of a person’s (whoever’s) livelihood being placed in jeopardy by publishing my book’ (Luckhardt, p.96). LW says he doesn’t quite understand the situation, since others have written and published books which didn’t agree with the common jargon, and the publishers hadn’t been ruined by them. He assures von Ficker that he is not deceiving LW’s trust, for his hope had merely been directed to von Ficker’s perspicacity that the treatise is not junk.

LW then says he would be very grateful to von Ficker if he could try to secure publication through Rainer Maria Rilke (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rainer_Maria_Rilke ), but that if that isn’t possible, they should just forget about it. He notes parenthetically that the decimal numbers should be printed along with the sentences of the work, since ‘they alone give the book lucidity and clarity and it would be an incomprehensible jumble without this numeration’. He closes his letter by assuring von Ficker that everything will turn out all right (Luckhardt, p.97).

(LW didn’t post his letter on this day though since, as we will see tomorrow, he adds a postscript on the following day).

Saturday 6th December, 1919: In a postscript to his letter, written the following day, LW wonders to von Ficker whether there is a Krampus (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Krampus ) who deals with evil publishers (Luckhardt, p.97).

von Ficker duly approaches Rilke about finding a publisher (Monk, p.179), and Rilke approaches his own publisher, Insel Verlag, but discovers that they do not handle philosophical texts (Janik in Luckhardt, p.187).

Mid-December 1919: Bertrand Russell arrives in The Hague. He is accompanied by Dora Black, with whom he has been having a relationship since the Summer (and who is later to become his second wife: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dora_Russell ). Dora came from Paris to discuss their future together.

Having arrived, Russell writes to LW from the Hotel de Twee Steden (Hotel des deux Villes) (https://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Path%C3%A9_Buitenhof ), where he is staying, to give him his address (this being the letter that would be deposited at the Poste Restante). He asks LW to come to that hotel as quickly as he can after his arrival in The Hague, since he is impatient to see him. He also undertakes to find some way to get LW’s book published in England if necessary (Wittgenstein in Cambridge, p.112).

Thursday 11th December, 1919: LW arrives in The Hague bringing with him his young friend Arvid Sjögren (one of the sons of his current landlady) (McGuinness, p.290).

Friday 12th December, 1919: In The Hague, LW meets up with Russell, going to Russell’s hotel at the very first opportunity (McGuinness, p.290).

Russell writes to his friend and lover Lady Constance Malleson, saying ‘Wittgenstein has arrived – just the same as ever – it is a great joy to see him – he is so full of logic that I can hardly get him to talk about anything personal. He is very affectionate and if anything a little more sane than before the war. He came before I was up and hammered at my door ‘till I woke. Since then he has talked about logic without ceasing for 4 hours…’ (McGuinness, ibid.).

Between this day and Saturday 20th December LW and Russell discuss their respective books (McGuinness, pp.279, 289-290, Monk, p.181, Potter 2013, p.33). McGuinness describes the visit as ‘a high point in this year’ for LW (p.289). He comments: ‘Russell had discussed the book sent him with [Jean] Nicod, a brilliant young French philosopher of mathematics, and with Dorothy Wrinch, a pupil and protégée, later an eminent crystallographer. Now he needed a discussion with Wittgenstein himself’ (pp.289-90).

Monday 15th December, 1919: LW writes, from the "Vegetarian Hotel-Restaurant ‘Pomona’", in The Hague (now Park Hotel, The Hague), to his friend Paul Engelmann. He opens by saying ‘As you see I am here at a place for the promotion of virtue’, and that he is getting on very well. He tells Engelmann that Russell wants to print his Abhandlung, possibly in both German and English, and that Russell will translate it himself, and write an introduction (‘which suits me’). He says that he meant to write to Engelmann only in order to tell him that he was extremely glad to have talked to him. But he regrets that their meeting (in Vienna) was so short, since he had a lot more to discuss, ‘Or rather, just the one matter but that still more thoroughly, because I still do not understand it at all’. He closes by asking Engelmann to give his regards to his revered Mama.

LW’s young friend Arvid Sjögren, who was accompanying him on this trip to The Hague, adds his kind regards to Engelmann at the end of LW’s letter (Engelmann, p.23).

(It has to be said that, despite having given away his entire inheritance, LW was not slumming it. The hotel in question describes itself as having been ‘a destination for luxurious stays, business meetings and grand events’ since the early 20th century).

Tuesday 16th December, 1919: Russell writes again to his friend Lady Constance Malleson, saying he is finding LW ‘glorious and wonderful, with a passionate purity I have never seen equalled’ (McGuinness, p.290).

Saturday 20th December, 1919: Bertrand Russell leaves The Hague to return home to London. He writes to Ottoline Morrell with an account of his meeting with LW, as follows:

‘I have much to tell you that is of interest. I leave here today, after a fortnight’s stay, during a week of which Wittgenstein was here, and we discussed his book every day. I came to think even better of it than I had done. I feel sure it is a really great book, though I do not feel sure it is right. I told him I could not refute it, and that I was sure it was either all right or all wrong, which I considered the mark of a good book; but it would take me years to decide this. This of course didn’t satisfy him, but I couldn’t say more.

I had felt in his book a flavour of mysticism, but was astonished when I found that he has become a complete mystic. He reads people like Kierkegaard and Angelus Silesius, and he seriously contemplates becoming a monk. It all started from William James’s Varieties of Religious Experience, and grew (not unnaturally) during the winter he spent alone in Norway before the war, when he was nearly mad. Then during the war a curious thing happened. He went on duty to the town of Tarnov in Galicia, and happened to come upon a bookshop which however seemed to contain nothing but picture postcards. However, he went inside and found that it contained one book: Tolstoy on The Gospels. He bought it merely because there was no other. He read it and re-read it, and thenceforth had it always with him, under fire and at all times. But on the whole he likes Tolstoy less than Dostoewski (especially Karamazov). He has penetrated deep into mystical ways of thought and feeling, but I think (although he wouldn’t agree) that what he likes best in mysticism is its power to make him stop thinking. I don’t much think he will really become a monk – it’s an idea, not an intention. His intention is to be a teacher. He gave all his money to his brothers and sisters, because he found earthly possessions a burden. I wish you had seen him’ (quoted from Wittgenstein in Cambridge, p.112).

Mid-to-Late December, 1919: Some time in the third week of December 1919, LW writes to Gottlob Frege, announcing his intention to visit him on the way home from The Hague to Austria (but the visit had to be cancelled, and LW never met Frege again) (Künne 2009, p.32, McGuinness, p.191).

Friday 26th December, 1919: LW returns from Holland to his lodgings in Vienna (Luckhardt, p.97).

Monday 29th December, 1919: LW writes to Ludwig von Ficker, reporting first that he arrived back from his meeting with Russell in Holland on the 26th. He explains that if he can’t get the Abhandlung published in Austria or Germany, then Russell will get it published in England. Russell wants to write an introduction to the book, he notes, an introduction ‘supposed to be half the size of the treatise’ and which would explain its most difficult points. LW assures von Ficker that with such an introduction, his book will be a much smaller risk for a publisher, ‘or perhaps none at all, since Russell’s name is very well known and ensures a quite special group of readers for the book’ (Luckhardt, p.97, Monk, p.183, Kanterian, p.91).

LW closes by asking von Ficker to write to him as soon as possible, so as to let him know what he thinks of the idea, since he has to let Russell know (Luckhardt, pp.97-8).

LW also writes, from Vienna, to Gottlob Frege, telling him about his meeting with Russell in The Hague, and expressing the hope that Russell ‘might see to it that the Abhandlung would be printed in England as a book’ (Künne 2009, p.32). 

Thursday 8th January, 1920: LW writes, from his lodgings in Vienna, to Bertrand Russell, thanking him for two books Russell had recently sent him. [McGuinness notes that these might well have been Russell’s Our Knowledge of the External World (1914) and Mysticism and Logic(1917)]. He notes that a few days ago, after arriving back in Vienna, he had fallen ill, but that he is now ‘more or less all right again’. He tells Russell that he has had no response, from the various prospective publishers he has contacted, to the information that Russell is willing to come to the aid of his book by writing an Introduction to it. He tells Russell he will write to him as soon as he hears anything.

LW asks Russell how he is, and whether he is in Cambridge [McGuinness notes that Russell was living in London at the time]. He tells Russell that he had enjoyed their time together (in The Hague) very much and that he had had the feeling that they did a great deal of real work that week. (Parenthetically he asks whether Russell hadn’t that feeling, too).

LW signs off with best regards ‘from your devoted friend’ (Wittgenstein in Cambridge, p.113).

Friday 9th January, 1920: LW writes, from his lodgings in St. Veitgasse, Vienna, to his friend Paul Engelmann. He first reports that yesterday he received a letter from a Mr. Viktor Lautsch, asking for LW’s financial support and giving Engelmann, Heinrich Groag and a Mr. Lachs as references. LW explains that as he himself has no money these days, and does not know Mr. Lautsch, he is for the moment sending him only a very little money and some underwear that he can spare. LW asks Engelmann urgently to let him have more information about this Mr. Lautsch, and offers the suggestion that perhaps his sister Hermine (‘Mining’) could help him out.

LW then remembers that he has not yet answered Engelmann’s last letter [a letter that has not survived]. He explains that he was ill in bed with ‘flu when it arrived, and undertakes to deal on another occasion with the remarks on religion Engelmann had made in it, remarking only that ‘they are still not clear enough, it seems to me’. He then says that he, too, is seeing the matter more clearly than a month ago’ [when they met in Vienna], and that ‘it must be possible… to say all these things much more adequately. (Or not at all, which is even more likely)’.

LW closes his letter by asking Engelmann to give his respects and kind regards to his revered mother (Engelmann, pp.25, 27).

Monday 19th January, 1920: LW writes to Ludwig von Ficker, asking him to be so kind as to return the manuscript of the Abhandlung to him immediately, since he wants to send it to the German publishing-house Reclam, of Leipzig, ‘who in all probability will be inclined to publish my book’. He remarks that he is curious to see how many years it will still take until it appears, and then says ‘I hope it’s before I die’ (Luckhardt, p.98; Monk, p.183).

LW also writes to Bertrand Russell, saying that he has heard today that Reclam ‘is prepared, in all probability, to take my book’, so he will have his manuscript sent from Innsbruck and will forward it to Reclam. He asks Russell when his Introduction to the book will arrive, since the printing cannot begin without it. ‘So if you’re prepared to write it, please do so as soon as possible and let me know whether and when I can expect your MS’. LW remarks that he is vegetating here and not enjoying life very much. He asks Russell to write soon. (Wittgenstein in Cambridge, p.114).

Monday 26th January, 1920: LW writes his last (surviving) letter to Ludwig von Ficker, sympathising with von Ficker, who is having trouble getting Der Brenner to agree to publication of the Abhandlung, and reiterating his plea (of 19th January) for von Ficker to return his manuscript since he has to send it to Reclam.

LW asks von Ficker what kind of profession he will be taking up, expressing the hope that that would somehow bring them together again. In a final postscript he complains that he, too, is ‘struggling against great adversities now’ (Luckhardt, p.98).

LW also writes to his friend Paul Engelmann, first saying that Engelmann’s kind letter has done him good [this letter has not survived]. ‘It is strange, I really was in the last few days in a state that was terrifying to myself, and the matter is not yet over. I don’t want to tell you what it is that causes me so much torment. But simply to feel that someone who understands life man is thinking of me is soothing’. LW then remarks that he has not yet read the story of the Starets (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Starets ) Zosima [a figure in Dostoyevsky’s novel The Brothers Karamazov (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Brothers_Karamazov )], and somehow does not yet think it will appeal to him at the moment. ‘Well, we shall see what will become of me’, he remarks.

LW then notes that after receiving Engelmann’s last letter but one [again, another letter that has not survived], he wrote immediately to Ludwig von Ficker asking for the manuscript of his book and to Russell asking him for his Introduction to it. [These are LW’s letters of 19th January] So far, though, nothing has reached him.

LW asks Engelmann whether he should write to the publishers Reclam in advance of his being able to send them his manuscript, or only when he can send it.

He then expresses the hope that ‘things go passably well [halbwegs gut], with you!’, and signs off.

In a postscript to this letter, LW records that he has just received a letter from von Ficker, but not his manuscript yet. In this letter von Ficker writes that he must now stop publishing Der Brenner if he does not want to lose everything he has. ‘Can anything be done for him?’, LW asks Engelmann (Engelmann, pp.27, 29).

Monday 2nd February, 1920: Bertrand Russell writes, from his home in Battersea, London, to LW. He first explains that he has broken his collarbone, and thus is obliged to dictate this letter. 

Russell says he is very glad to hear that Reclam will probably take LW’s book, and that he has waited to begin writing the Introduction to it until he knew that LW had secured a publisher, ‘since the introduction would have had to be quite different if it had been written for publication in England’. He undertakes to get his introduction written as soon as he possibly can, but says he thinks that he cannot finish it for another six weeks. He tells LW, though, that he can absolutely count on it, and can tell his publishers so.

Russell next says he is sorry to hear that LW has been ill. He notes that he will not be going back to Cambridge until October.

Russell then remarks that Keynes has written a book ‘of the very greatest importance on the economic consequences of the peace, which is having a great effect upon opinion in Great Britain and is likely to do much good.

Russell ends his letter by saying ‘I loved our time together at The Hague, and was very happy, both in seeing you and in our discussions’ (Wittgenstein in Cambridge, p.115).

February & March, 1920: During the time in which he is lecturing in London on the analysis of mind, Russell writes his Introduction to LW’s Abhandlung (Potter 2013, p.33). Because he was recovering from having injured his collarbone, and could not use his right hand to write, the rough original version of this introduction was partly typewritten (at the beginning and the end), and its middle part was handwritten by someone other than Russell. The editors of Russell’s Collected Papers surmise that this was Doroth Wrinch, ‘who was a pupil-cum-secretary of Russell’s at this time’ (Editorial note on the reprinting of the Introduction in Russell’s Collected Papers, volume 9, p.97).

Thursday 19th February, 1920: LW writes to his friend Paul Engelmann, saying first that he once again has the urge to write to him. He records that he learnt only a few days ago that it will be several weeks before he can expect to receive Russell’s Introduction to his Abhandlung, and that he has informed Reclam accordingly. He expresses the hope that Russell will not lose interest in the meantime. LW then remarks that the external conditions of his own life are ‘very pitiable’ [sehr traurig], and that this is wearing down his morale. ‘And I have nothing to hold on to. The one good thing in my life just now is that I sometimes read fairy-tales to the children at school. It pleases them and relieves the strain on me. But otherwise things are in a mess for yours truly’. The letter ends there. (Engelmann, p.29).

Friday 19th March, 1920: LW writes his last letter to Gottlob Frege, returning to his criticisms of Frege’s article Der Gedanke, and ‘hoping that Frege would not take offence at his frankness’ (Künne, ‘Wittgenstein and Frege’s Logical Investigations’ (2009), p.32). [This letter has not survived. But, as we shall see, Frege replies to it at the beginning of April]

LW also writes to Bertrand Russell, remarking first that it is a long time since Russell has heard from him, and asking how the Introduction to his Abhandlung is going. He then asks Russell how his collarbone is, and how he managed to break it. He says how much he would like to see Russell again, that he is no longer in any condition to acquire new friends, and that he is losing his old ones, which is sad. He tells Russell that he remembers ‘poor David Pinsent’ nearly every day, ‘Because, however odd it sounds, I’m too stupid for nearly everybody’.

LW ends his letter by asking Russell to write to him soon, and to send his Introduction. He signs off ‘yours sadly’ (Wittgenstein in Cambridge, p.116).

Russell writes, from his London home, to LW, sending him the Introduction which he had originally promised three months ago [in mid-December, when they were in The Hague]. He says he is sorry to have taken so long about it, ‘but breaking my collarbone made me stupid’. Russell says he assumes that LW will translate it into German, and tells LW how he proposes to flag the way in which LW’s own German words (i.e., some of the numbered remarks of the Abhandlung) should be inserted into that translation. He then says ‘If there is anything unsatisfactory to you in my remarks, let me know, and I will try to amend it’.

Russell closes his letter by asking LW how he is, saying he would like news of him, and signs off ‘yours affectionately’ (Wittgenstein in Cambridge, p.117).

Late March 1920: Once LW receives Russell’s Introduction to his Abhandlung (https://users.drew.edu/~jlenz/br-on-witt/br-intro-to-witt.html), he sets out having it translated into German for Reclam (McGuinness, p.291).

Saturday 27th March, 1920:LW’s brother Paul writes to him from the Wittgenstein family house in the Alleegasse, noting that the photographer Moritz Nähr (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moritz_N%C3%A4hr ) had recently been there but had said that his landlady would not allow LW to move in tomorrow, since ‘she cannot answer for it to the housing police on hygienic grounds’. However, Paul says, the landlord himself is coming next week, so maybe something can be arranged with him. Paul asks LW whether he could tell them his decision tomorrow, and also whether it isn’t possible for LW to stay where he is for at least another couple of days. He signs off ‘In haste, but with affection, your Paul’ (WFL, pp.70-1).

April, 1920: LW moves out of the Sjögren’s house (where he has been living since late October 1919) into lodgings (Monk, p.184).

Saturday 3rd April, 1920: Gottlob Frege writes his sixth (and last known) letter to LW, from Bad Kleinen, Mecklenburg. 

He begins by thanking LW for his letter of 19th March, saying ‘of course I do not take offense at your frankness. But I would like to know which deeper grounds of idealism you think I have not grasped. I believe that I understood that you yourself do not hold epistemological idealism to be true. Therefore you acknowledge, I think, that there are no deeper grounds for this idealism at all. The grounds for it can then only be apparent, not logical’. Frege agrees that one can sometimes be led astray by language, because language isn’t always up to the demands of logic, and because a great deal that is psychological was at work on the formation of language, other than the logical capacities of humankind. Logical mistakes, he explains, do not stem from logic, but from impurities or disturbances in human logical activity. Relating this to his own essay (‘Der Gedanke’) he then avers that it was not his intention to trace all such disturbances, and he asks LW to please go through that essay until he finds the first sentence with which he disagrees, and to write to him stating the reasons why he disagrees with it. In this way he hopes to find out what LW has in mind. He raises the possibility that he does not mean to fight against idealism in the sense in which LW means it. ‘I probably did not even use the expression “idealism” at all [which is true (JP)]. Take my sentences just as they stand, without attributing to me any intention that might have been foreign to me’.

Frege then explains that as for LW’s own writing, the Abdhandlung, he had already taken offense at its very first sentence. ‘Not that I took it to be false, but the sense is unclear to me. “The world is everything that is the case”. The “is” is used either as a mere copula, or as the sign of equality in the fuller sense of “is the same as”. While the “is” of the subordinate clause is obviously a mere copula, I can only understand the “is” of the main clause in the sense of an equality sign. Up to here I believe no doubt is possible. But is the equation to be understood as a definition? That is not so clear. Do you want to say, “I understand by ‘world’ everything that is the case”? Then “the world” is the explained expression, “everything that is the case” the explaining expression. In this case nothing is thereby asserted of the world or of that which is the case, but if anything is to be asserted, then it is something about the author’s use of language. Whether and how far this use might concur with the language of everyday life is a separate matter, which is, however, of little concern to the philosopher once he has established his use of language’.

(Harking back to a now-famous idea from the beginning of his 1892 essay ‘Über Sinn und Bedeutung’ (‘On Sense and Meaning’)), Frege then notes that a thought which extends our knowledge essentially can be expressed in an equality, if it is acknowledged as true. Every recognition, he says, is a piece of knowledge of this kind. For example, a planet can be recognized as one that has been previously observed. For the time being it might have two names, the one it had been given earlier, and the name which it has been given just now, even if only in the form ‘the planet observed by me just now’. The astronomer may then, put, in the form of a question, the equation: ‘Is Eros the planet observed by me just now?’. This question has a sense for that astronomer, he knows that it must either be affirmed or denied. Each of the names ‘Eros’ and ‘the planet observed by me just now’, had its sense already, before this equation was framed. Neither of them obtains its sense just now in virtue of that equation, as in the case of a definition. Also, that each of these names should be meaningful was settled for the astronomer before he framed the question. Now let us suppose the astronomer answers the question affirmatively. He thereby establishes nothing about his use of language, as in the case of a definition, but rather he wins through it a new piece of knowledge, much more valuable than a mere consequence of the law of identity a = a. If, through a definitional equation ‘2 = 1 + 1’ one had given the sign ‘2’ the meaning of ‘1 + 1’, which I consider as known, then obviously 2 = 1 + 1 holds; but through acknowledging this equation no new knowledge is really gained. Instead we have in it only a special case of the law of identity.

Returning to LW’s words, Frege then says ‘If, however, you do not mean the sentence “the world is everything that is the case” as a definitional equation, but want to set forth a valuable piece of knowledge, each of the two names “the world” and “everything that is the case” must already have a sense before the framing of the sentence, a sense which is therefore not only then given to it in virtue of this equation. Before I can write something further about this matter, I must have reached clarity about this. Definitional equation or recognition judgment? Or is there a third?’

Frege then mentions that the current ‘wretched economic conditions’ will make it nearly impossible to publish a difficult work if the author does not bear a considerable part of the cost.

He then remarks that he has just noticed, from previous letters, that LW acknowledges a deep and true core in idealism, ‘an important feeling that is wrongly gratified, hence a legitimate need’, and he asks LW what sort of need this is.

Finally, Frege says he would be glad if LW would assist him in understanding the results of his thinking by answering his questions. He signs off ‘With kind regards in abiding friendship, G.Frege’(de Pellegrin, pp.64-67, Janik 1989, pp.24-26; Monk, p.189; Künne 2009, pp.32-3).

We do not know whether LW ever answered Frege’s questions, and thus Wolfgang Künne concludes: ‘after nine years the exchange between the two men ended with mutual disappointment: Frege was disappointed with Wittgenstein as author, and Wittgenstein was disappointed with Frege as reader’ (Künne 2009, p.33).

(This letter is the last-known contact between LW and Frege, who died in Bad Kleinen in July 1925, aged 76).

Friday 9th April, 1920:LW writes his first letter to Bertrand Russell since he received Russell’s proposed Introduction to his Abhandlung (in late March). He says: ‘Thank you very much for your manuscript. There’s so much of it that I’m not quite in agreement with – both where you’re critical of me and also where you’re simply trying to elucidate my point of view. But that doesn’t matter. The future will simply pass judgment on us – or perhaps it won’t, and if it is silent that will be a judgment too’.

He tells Russell that his Introduction is currently being translated and will go to the publisher with his Abhandlung. ‘I hope he will accept them!’, he remarks, before saying ‘There’s nothing much new here. I am as stupid as usual’. He then gives Russell his new address: Vienna III., Rasumofskygasse 24 (c/o Herr Zimmermann), and signs off ‘warmest regards from your devoted friend’ (Wittgenstein in Cambridge, p.118).

Saturday 24th April, 1920: LW writes to his friend Paul Engelmann, complaining that he has not heard from Engelmann for an unconscionable time, and asking him to write to him again, since he has had a very miserable time recently, and is still afraid that the devil will one day come and take him - ‘I am not joking!’.

LW notes that Russell’s Introduction to his Abhandlung has arrived and is being translated into German. ‘He has brewed up a mixture with which I don’t agree, but as I have not written it I don’t mind much’, he says (uncharacteristically).

He then gives Engelmann his new address: III, Rasumofskygasse 24 (c/o Herr Zimmermann), and explains that this change of address ‘was accompanied by operations which I can never remember without a sinking feeling’.

Finally, he asks Engelmann to write soon, signs off ‘Ever Yours’, and once again asks Engelmann to give his respects and kindest regards to his revered dear mother, whom he often remembers with gratitude (Engelmann, pp.29-30).

Tuesday 27th April 1920: Bertrand Russell leaves for Russia for just over two months, as an unofficial member of a Labour Party delegation (Wittgenstein in Cambridge, p.120n). They leave from London, travelling first to Newcastle, then to Bergen, and then on to ‘Reval’ (the name by which Tallinn, the capital of Estonia, was then mostly known) (White 1994, p.627).

Thursday 6th May, 1920: LW writes to Bertrand Russell, first thanking him for his kind letter (perhaps a letter that has been lost, since LW has already replied to Russell’s last extant letter (of March 19th)). He then says ‘But now you’ll be angry with me when I tell you something: Your Introductuion is not going to be printed and as a consequence my book probably won’t be either. – You see, when I actually saw the German translation of the Introduction, I couldn’t bring myself to let it be printed with my work. All the refinement of your English style was, obviously, lost in the translation and what remained was superficiality and misunderstanding’. LW then explains that he sent the Abhandlung, with Russell’s Introduction, to Reclam but that he wrote saying that he didn’t want the latter printed, and that it might serve solely for their own orientation in regard to his work. As a result it is now highly probable, he says, that Reclam won’t accept his work (although he has had no answer from him yet). [‘Him’ is presumably Philipp Ernst Reclam (https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philipp_Ernst_Reclam), the grandson of the company’s founder]

LW then explains that he has already comforted himself about this by means of the following argument: ‘Either my piece is a work of the highest rank, or it is not a work of the highest rank. In the latter (and more probable) case I myself am in favour of its not being printed. And in the former case it’s a matter of indifference whether it’s printed twenty or a hundred years sooner or later. After all, who asks whether the Critique of Pure Reason, for example, was written in 17x or y. So really in the former case too my treatise wouldn’t need to be printed. – And now, don’t be angry! Perhaps it was ungrateful of me but I couldn’t do anything else’.

LW then signs off ‘warmest regards from your devoted friend’, and says it would be wonderful if Russell could come to Vienna in the summer (Wittgenstein in Cambridge, p.119, McGuinness, p,291).

Since Russell is already away, currently on his journey to Russia, he will not receive this letter until his return to England, on the last day of June.

Saturday 8th May, 1920: LW writes to Paul Engelmann, thanking him for his kind invitation, explaining that he cannot come at Whitsun, but will certainly do so after his exam. He notes that he has ‘seen Zweig’ [Fritz Zweig (https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fritz_Zweig ), presumably, although it might have been his cousin Max Zweig] and discussed a number of things with him, as Zweig will presumably tell him.

He then remarks that his book will probably not be published, ‘as I could not bring myself to have it published with Russell’s Introduction, which looks even more impossible in translation than it does in the original’. He notes that apart from that he is in pretty poor shape and urgently needs to talk with Engelmann, but that this will have to wait a little longer.

As always, LW asks Engelmann to give his regards and best wishes to his revered mother. He also sends his regards to Engelmann himself (Engelmann, p.31). 

Late May 1920:The Leipzig publishing-house Reclam do finally reject the idea of publishing LW’s Abhandlung (Monk, p.184).

Sunday 30th May, 1920: LW writes to his friend Paul Engelmann, asking first why he doesn’t hear from Engelmann any more. ‘(Presumably because you don’t write to me’) he quips. He then says he feels like completely empyting himself again, having had the most miserable time recently, but ‘only as a result of my own baseness and rottenness’. He reports that he has continually thought about taking his own life, and that the idea still sometimes haunts him. ‘I have sunk to the lowest point’, he muses, wishing Engelmann that he should never be in that position. He asks himself whether he will ever be able to raise himself up again, then saying ‘we’ll see’. Finally he reveals the news that Reclam will not publish his book, noting ‘I don’t care any more, and that is a good thing’. He asks Engelmann to write soon (Engelmann, p.33).

Both Monk and McGuinness comment on LW’s depressed and suicidal mental state at this point (McGuinness, pp.292-3, Monk, p.186), but McGuinness also remarks that the Abhandlung’s having been refused by publishers doesn’t seem to be the main determinant of LW’s mood (p.292).

He also says: ‘If it were not impossible to reconstruct the exact motives for Wittgenstein’s despair in the first half of 1910, it would be intrusive. But it is a striking fact that his mind turned to thoughts of death and suicide just when he was committing to the press his book that ends in silence’ (ibid.).