A file of addresses to new students by former LSE Director William Beveridge has recently been digitised and is now available online via the Archives catalogue.
The documents (in BEVERIDGE/5/10) vary in detail from sketchy notes to detailed transcriptions of what he was due to say, and many of them are annotated by Beveridge himself. Below are a few extracts from the addresses:
- On the spirit of adventure and the tradition of tolerance (speech made on 13 October 1930, BEVERIDGE/5/10/15):
“The life of the School has always been a life of adventure, the breaking into new fields of study and the attacking of old problems by new methods…
The tradition of the School is and always has been one of tolerance and one of free thought and speech. Its Constitution lays down that none of the teachers here may suffer any dishonour for the expression of any opinion; with this privilege comes an obligation of honour applying to all the School, whether teachers or taught, to make it clear that the School itself has no colour, political or economic, but is an impartial ground where all may meet. Tolerance indeed is forced upon us by the infinite variety of those who form our body; men and women of other races, creeds and backgrounds, and of other political and economic preconceptions”.
He adds that there is still plenty of room left for the spirit of adventure as, “It is in the fields of economic and political statesmanship, even more than in those of natural science, that the great discoveries are most needed and waiting to be made”.
- On the conflict between two unselfish motives, the “reforming spirit” and the “scientific spirit” (5 October 1932, BEVERIDGE/5/10/19)
“No one will deny that for the reforming spirit there is ample scope in the world to-day. These are not easy times for anyone. Man seems to be making a mess of his planet; to be wasting his own powers and Nature’s bounty. Because of this it is natural that many old constitutions and cherished institutions, many doctrines that once seemed unassailable, are now on trial…”.
“Your main business here is to acquire the scientific spirit in economic and political studies. You will not find that either inhuman or unprofitable.
In the first place, the pursuit of knowledge is itself an absorbing passion…
In the second place, knowledge is the indispensable preliminary to effective reform…”.
“You are here for the most part to learn to do better in practical life. For the reasons I have given, I want to suggest that in spite of the urgent call, or indeed because of the urgent recurring calls, of the world to the service of the reforming spirit, there is need for you at the moment to be slightly deaf to that call. Your first business is to serve the scientific spirit, to get as the basis of all that you may do in the world hereafter as much knowledge as possible for its own sake, as much understanding as possible of the economic and political institutions, without considering all the time as yet how you would like to change them, what judgment you would pass upon them.
I hope for the sake of the world that there is plenty in you of reforming spirit. For there is much to be done. In following that spirit, as in carving out your own careers, you will constantly in after life find yourselves taking sides, joining parties, attacking opponents, making public speeches, pretending to know more than you do, taking decisions without knowing, taking risks. If when you go out into the practical world you do not take some risks and at need make mistakes, you will not make anything.
But with the scientific spirit none of these things fit. To know, to know the limits of your knowledge, to place truth above parties and sides, to speak only when sure. These are its first principles. It is the scientific spirit that you must seek here; service to the reforming spirit if that conflicts with it you should postpone.
If you miss other things here, you miss what may be valuable. If you miss that, you miss what is vital”.
- Beveridge on the need for the application of reason to human affairs (10 October 1934, BEVERIDGE/5/10/24)
“In one sense the School is based on tremendous optimism, on the belief that by taking thought one can master the complex workings of society, and make society work better in the future than it has worked in the past. But as we are optimistic about the possibility of man mastering his fate in this way, so we must realise the conditions of his doing so – patience, detachment, industry, suspension of judgment until one is sure, readiness to face facts, readiness to learn and change your views – everything for which the word “science” stands. To come here with a ready made set of fixed opinions on the nature of society, to acquire such opinions in the first few months is to waste the rest of your time in this place. We believe in the application of reason to human affairs, but it must be reason, not prejudice, not emotion – whether of hatred or of love. That is the common element of the School: belief in the application of reason to human affairs, belief that it is a difficult and interesting, but not an impossible task”.
- On Beatrice and Sidney Webb and their vision of LSE (9 October 1935, BEVERIDGE/5/10/26)
This speech was made in the Founders Room which “commemorates the Webbs, whose portrait you see behind me – the Founders of the School of which you have just become members. The portrait was a present to the Webbs on their joint 70th birthday six years ago; they are not, I believe really the same age, but they keep their birthday and their age as the mean of their two real ages. The School is among the youngest of the great University institutions of this country – just forty years old this year, and its founders are still vigorous and working as hard as ever – in that room as you see it in the picture – complete with the dog”.
Beveridge was not able to come to the School to undertake his first degree as in 1897, “when I was at the age to go to a University as an undergraduate, the School did exist indeed; but it was not part of the University of London; the School offered no regular course for University degrees; our first graduate dates from 1903. In 1897 I should have found the School, had I found it, filling half of one house in Adelphi Terrace, just rejoicing at having left the four rooms in which it began for that larger territory.
All that you are going to get in this place in the next few years you will owe to the Webbs. I hope you will remember this whenever you come to this room, and treat it with the respect which is due to those great figures. I’d like you to feel always something of the romance of the beginning of this School”. He explains that the School was founded in October 1895 on a “small legacy and an idea in the mind of the Webbs”.
“What was this idea? This idea of the Webbs? The idea was a belief in the application of reason to human relations. A belief that reason applied to human affairs might make it possible for us ultimately to manage them better, as reason applied to nature has enabled us to master so much of nature. Their general idea was belief in the possibility and the need for a Science of Society…”.