C. P. Snow

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C. P. Snow
C. P. Snow.jpg
C. P. Snow in 1969.
Jack Manning/The New York Times
Born (1905-10-15)15 October 1905
Leicester
Died 1 July 1980(1980-07-01) (aged 74)
London
Nationality English
Fields Physics, chemistry, literature (novelist)
Institutions Christ's College, Cambridge
Alma mater University of Leicester
Christ's College, Cambridge

Charles Percy Snow CBE (15 October 1905 – 1 July 1980), who was raised to the peerage as Baron Snow, of the City of Leicester, was an English physical chemist and novelist who also served in several important positions in the British Civil Service and briefly in the UK government.[1] He is best known for his series of novels known collectively as Strangers and Brothers, and for The Two Cultures, a 1959 lecture in which he laments the gulf between scientists and "literary intellectuals".[2]

Life[edit]

Born in Leicester to Ada and William Snow (a church organist and choirmaster),[3] Charles was the second of four boys (his brothers being Harold, Eric and Philip Snow).[4] Snow was educated at the Leicestershire and Rutland College, now the University of Leicester, where he read chemistry for two years and proceeded to a master's degree in physics. From Leicester, Snow went on a scholarship to Christ's College, Cambridge and gained his PhD in physics (Spectroscopy). In 1930 he became a Fellow of Christ's College.

He served in several senior civil service positions: as technical director of the Ministry of Labour from 1940 to 1944, and as civil service commissioner from 1945 to 1960. Snow's was among the 2,300 names of prominent persons listed on the Nazis' Special Search List, GB of those who were to be arrested on the invasion of Great Britain and turned over to the Gestapo.[5]

As a politician he was parliamentary secretary in the House of Lords to the Minister of Technology from 1964 to 1966 in the Labour administration of Harold Wilson.[1] He was knighted in 1957[6] and made a life peer, as Baron Snow, of the City of Leicester, in 1964.[1]

Snow married the novelist Pamela Hansford Johnson in 1950. They had one son. Friends included the mathematician G. H. Hardy, for whom he would write a biographical foreword in A Mathematician's Apology, the physicist P. M. S. Blackett, the X-ray crystallographer J. D. Bernal and the cultural historian Jacques Barzun.[7] At Christ's he tutored H. S. Hoff – later better known as the novelist William Cooper. The two became friends, worked together in the civil service and wrote versions of each other into their novels: Snow was the model for the college dean, Robert, in Cooper's Scenes from Provincial Life sequence.[8] In 1960, he gave the Godkin Lectures at Harvard University, about the clashes between Henry Tizard and F. Lindemann (later Lord Cherwell), both scientific advisors to British governments around the time of World War II. The lectures were subsequently published as Science and Government. For the academic year 1961 to 1962, Lord and Lady Snow served as Fellows on the faculty in the Center for Advanced Studies at Wesleyan University.[9][10][11]

Literary work[edit]

Snow's first novel was a whodunit, Death under Sail (1932). In 1975 he wrote a biography of Anthony Trollope. But he is better known as the author of a sequence of novels entitled Strangers and Brothers depicting intellectuals in academic and government settings in the modern era. The Masters is the best-known novel of the sequence. It deals with the internal politics of a Cambridge college as it prepares to elect a new master, and has all the appeal of being an insider’s view. The novel depicts concerns other than the strictly academic influencing the decisions of supposedly objective scholars. The Masters and The New Men were jointly awarded the James Tait Black Memorial Prize in 1954.[12] Corridors of Power added a phrase to the language of the day. In 1974, Snow's novel In Their Wisdom was shortlisted for the Booker Prize.[13]

In The Realists, an examination of the work of eight novelists – Stendhal, Honoré de Balzac, Charles Dickens, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Leo Tolstoy, Benito Pérez Galdós, Henry James and Marcel Proust – Snow makes a robust defence of the realistic novel.

The storyline of his novel, The Search, is referenced in Dorothy L. Sayers's Gaudy Night, and is used to help elicit the criminal's motive.

The Two Cultures[edit]

Main article: The Two Cultures

On 7 May 1959, Snow delivered an influential Rede Lecture called The Two Cultures, which provoked "widespread and heated debate".[1] Subsequently published as The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution, the lecture argued that the breakdown of communication between the "two cultures" of modern society – the sciences and the humanities – was a major hindrance to solving the world's problems. In particular, Snow argues that the quality of education in the world is on the decline. For example, many scientists have never read Charles Dickens, but artistic intellectuals are equally non-conversant with science. He wrote:

A good many times I have been present at gatherings of people who, by the standards of the traditional culture, are thought highly educated and who have with considerable gusto been expressing their incredulity at the illiteracy of scientists. Once or twice I have been provoked and have asked the company how many of them could describe the Second Law of Thermodynamics. The response was cold: it was also negative. Yet I was asking something which is about the scientific equivalent of: 'Have you read a work of Shakespeare's?'
I now believe that if I had asked an even simpler question – such as, What do you mean by mass, or acceleration, which is the scientific equivalent of saying, 'Can you read?' – not more than one in ten of the highly educated would have felt that I was speaking the same language. So the great edifice of modern physics goes up, and the majority of the cleverest people in the western world have about as much insight into it as their Neolithic ancestors would have had.

The satirists Flanders and Swann used the first part of this quotation as the basis for their short monologue and song, "First and Second Law".

As delivered in 1959, Snow's Rede Lectures specifically condemned the British educational system, as having since the Victorian period over-rewarded the humanities (especially Latin and Greek) at the expense of scientific education. He believed that in practice this deprived British elites (in politics, administration, and industry) of adequate preparation for managing the modern scientific world. By contrast, Snow said, German and American schools sought to prepare their citizens equally in the sciences and humanities, and better scientific teaching enabled those countries' rulers to compete more effectively in a scientific age. Later discussion of The Two Cultures tended to obscure Snow's initial focus on differences between British systems (of both schooling and social class) and those of competing countries.

Works[edit]

Fiction[edit]

Strangers and Brothers series[edit]

Other fiction[edit]

  • Death Under Sail, 1932
  • New Lives for Old, 1933
  • The Search, 1934
  • The Malcontents, 1972
  • In Their Wisdom, 1974, shortlisted for the Booker Prize
  • A Coat of Varnish, 1979

Non-fiction[edit]

  • The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution, 1959
  • Science and Government, 1961
  • The Two Cultures and a Second Look, 1963
  • Variety of men, 1967
  • The State of Siege, 1968
  • Public Affairs, 1971
  • Trollope: His Life and Art, 1975
  • The Realists, 1978
  • The Physicists, 1981

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d The Columbia Encyclopedia (6th Edition, 2001–2005). "Snow, C. P." Accessed 26 July 2007.
  2. ^ Markl, H (April 1994). "Dementia dichotoma—the 'two cultures' delusion". Experientia 50 (4): 346–51. doi:10.1007/BF02026636. PMID 8174681. 
  3. ^ Philip Snow (1982). Stranger and brother: a portrait of C.P. Snow. Macmillan. p. 3. ISBN 0-333-32680-6. 
  4. ^ Philip Snow (1998). A time of renewal: clusters of characters, C.P. Snow, and coups. Radcliffe Press. p. 234. 
  5. ^ The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, William L. Shirer, Book Club Associates, 1971, page 784.
  6. ^ "February 15th, 1957". London Gazette. p. 1045. 
  7. ^ C. P. Snow Christ's College Magazine 231, 67–69, (2006)
  8. ^ Shrapnel, Norman. Obituary, William Cooper, The Guardian, London, 7 September 2002.
  9. ^ Recent Thoughts on the Two Cultures, Wesleyan University
  10. ^ "WesFacts". Wesleyan University. Archived from the original on 24 September 2009. Retrieved 23 November 2009. 
  11. ^ Guide to the Center for Advanced Studies Records, 1958–1969, Wesleyan University
  12. ^ "The James Tait Black Memorial Prizes: The Prize Winners". Englit.ed.ac.uk. 21 May 2012. Retrieved 22 June 2012. 
  13. ^ C P Snow at the Man Booker Prize website

Further reading[edit]

C P Snow and the struggle of Modernity. John de la Mothe. (University of Texas Press, 1992). isbn 978-0-292-75896

C P Snow: A reference guide. P W Boylink. (Hall, 1980).

The scientific papers of C P Snow. J C D Brand. History of Science, Vol 26, No 2, pages 111-127. (1988). [1]

C P Snow: The Dynamics of Hope Nicholas Tredell. (Palgrave Macmillan 2012).

External links[edit]

Academic offices
Preceded by
Baron Boothby
Rector of the University of St Andrews
1961–1964
Succeeded by
John Rothenstein