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G.E. Moore's Grave in Cambridge, England

G.E. Moore is buried in St. Giles Cemetery, Cambridge, England. The photograph is from 20 October 1980. (The world wasn't as green that day as the photograph makes it appear.)

G.E. Moore's grave in St. Giles Cemetery, Cambridge, England, 49 KB

G.E. Moore's grave in St. Giles Cemetery, 30 KB


The gravestone's "OM" = "Order of Merit", which G.E. Moore was granted by the British government in 1951, the "highest honor for a man of letters". Just after receiving it, Moore told his wife (who had been waiting in a car outside the palace): "Did you know that the king had never heard of Wittgenstein!" (Norman Malcolm, "George Edward Moore", in Malcolm's Knowledge and Certainty, Ithaca: 1963, p. 166-167)

Bertrand Russell had received the Order of Merit two years before Moore. The king's only comment to Moore about Russell was: "Queer looking man." (Alan Wood, p. 209)

St. Giles Cemetery, Cambridge

If you walked through the tall shrubs at the center of the photograph below, you would come to G.E. Moore's grave, and if you followed the path in front of Moore's grave (which is where the above photograph was taken) parallel to the near-side length of the cemetery chapel you would shortly come to Huntingdon Road.

St. Giles Cemetery, Cambridge, England, 25 KB

I'm afraid the world appears even greener in this photograph; the camera had been my father's and it was well-traveled and broken. But the photograph above gives an idea of the cemetery.

Wittgenstein's grave is the shiny dark rectangle in the lower left corner of the photograph (The shine was caused by the rain; otherwise the stone would be dull). The grave looks well enough in this photograph, but close up its setting is, or at least was, not good; but maybe Wittgenstein would have wished for a modest setting like that.

Preface: I went by train to Cambridge, and at a little after noon I walked to St. Giles Cemetery. (I hadn't known which "St. Giles" Wittgenstein was buried in until I asked the librarian in Dover -- and she suggested Cambridge itself). Here is the account I wrote at the time.

Visit to Wittgenstein's Grave

Wittgenstein's grave is in St. Giles Cemetery, 145 A Huntingdon Road, Cambridge, about a mile's walk up the road from Trinity College. The caretaker's telephone number is (0223) 3559O2.

I went to the cemetery on the afternoon of Monday, 20 October 1980. I was met at the caretaker's lodge by a very kind, older woman; she had thrown a overcoat over her shoulders. The weather was misty, but it wasn't raining. Because I had telephoned the day before, she was expecting me and came out as soon as I walked down the path to the graveyard. (There was to be a burial in the morning, so she had asked me to come after noon, 12:30 exactly if I remember correctly). She showed me to G.E. Moore's grave (which I had telephoned to ask about [Note 1]), and asked if there was anyone else's I wanted to see.

"Professor Wittgenstein's."

She led the way between a break in the tall shrubs lining the path, saying, "You'd never have found this one."

We cleared away the pine needles from the slab with our hands. "He was a clever man, wasn't he," she said.

"Do you get many visitors?" I asked.

"Oh yes, hundreds."

I asked her if it would be all right to take a few photographs. She answered that it would be and then quickly left me by myself, having first asked me where I was from and if there were any other graves I wanted to see. There were no other visitors.

The grave is marked by a large, kind of greenish, rectangular stone slab, laid flat on the ground, without any ornamentation, having engraved in it only:

1889 - 1951

"That's all he wanted, plain like that," the caretaker had told me.

The cemetery is about half a mile up the road from its parish church St. Giles with St. Peter (which is itself about half a mile up the road from Trinity College).

In the library of Trinity College, one of Wittgenstein's early philosophy notebooks is on display in a glass case. It appears to be written in pencil, or the ink has faded, in a rapid hand but with good penmanship. [Note 2]

Whewell's Courts of Trinity College, where first Moore and then Wittgenstein had his rooms in the 1930s, is not open to the public. But I asked the porter if I could step inside for a moment. He said yes, and I was then standing at the corner above which Wittgenstein had given his lectures. [Note 3]

Wittgenstein's grave, St. Giles Cemetery, Cambridge, England, 22 KB

Wittgenstein's Grave
20 October 1980

To write that account was suggested to me by Robert Schumann's account of looking for Bach's grave. So that I wrote that account while I was still in Cambridge.

One evening, I went to the Leipzig Churchyard to seek a great man's grave: for hours I hunted up and down -- I found no 'J.S. Bach' ... and when I asked the grave-digger about it, he shook his head at the man's obscurity and said: "Bach's a common name."

Source: quoted by Reiner Kunze in his The Wonderful Years, tr. Joachim Neugroschel, New York: 1977, p. 80.

Note 1: I was embarrassed to ask about Wittgenstein, so I asked about Moore instead (although I did want to see both graves). In America only students of philosophy had heard of Wittgenstein, but in Britain the situation was very different, and I wouldn't have liked to be taken for a gossip. [BACK]

Note 2: The only other trace of Wittgenstein I found in the public section of the library was a small photograph casually thumb-tacked to a display board for visitors to the library. There were a few other photographs of "famous Trinity men" displayed on the board as well. But the others had not been attached with such carelessness. Wittgenstein had already been dead thirty years, and, at the time, this apparently casual attitude toward the philosopher seemed pretentious to me. Maybe I was wrong in my perception, but I did therefore wonder how it might feel to study or teach at a place like Oxford or Cambridge University where so many gifted thinkers had studied and taught. C.D. Broad seems not to have felt strange about living in Isaac Newton's old rooms; he only wrote that he had made a few improvements, added a refrigerator for example.

An explanation of meaning might be added to one of the caretaker's statements. In the language spoken in Britain, the characterization 'clever' means 'intellectually able'. I have not seen that word used by British writers with the disapprobation it so often carries in America of 'craftiness' or 'intelligence not applied to the best of ends'. [BACK]

Note 3: G.E. Moore gave an exact description of the location of Wittgenstein's rooms:

Of the only two sets [of rooms] which are on the top floor of the gate-way from Whewell's Courts into Sidney Street, they were the set which looks westward over the larger Whewell's Court, and, being so high up, they had a large view of the sky and also of Cambridge roofs, including the pinnacles of King's College. (PP i, p. 255)

In other words, the top floor rooms at the southwest corner of the northeastern gate-way of Whewell's eastern-most court, I think [Map of Trinity College, Cambridge (see lower right corner)]. This location was easily found using a visitor's map to Cambridge, although the courts were only indicated by a broken line. However, at the time I did not remember Moore's words, and if I happened to be standing under that very gate-way -- and I did approach Whewell's Courts from Sidney Street --, it was without knowing that I was where I wanted to be. So I came away only with a picture in my head, not in my camera.

M. O'C. Drury wrote about Wittgenstein's rooms in Whewell's court in 1930: "He had chosen rooms at the top of the staircase so as to have no one overhead. I noticed that he had altered the proportions of the windows by using strips of black paper." Wittgenstein said, "See what a difference it makes to the appearance of the room when the windows have the right proportion." (Recollections p. 106)

Sydney Street becomes first Bridge, then Magdalene, then Castle Streets, and then Huntingdon Road. In Huntingdon Road lies the entrance to St. Giles Cemetery on the left hand side of the road as you leave Cambridge going northwest. (The cemetery is now, however, called: "Ascension Parish Burial Ground, Formerly Burial Ground St. Giles' and St. Peter's", in All Souls Lane off Huntingdon Road".)

I can vividly remember the one and one-half day visit I made by train to Cambridge now (It cost £4.50 for a single night's stay); more than thirty-five years later I can picture everything very clearly, and I could easily find everything again, I think, although there will never be an again. I am very grateful I had the opportunity to visit.

It wasn't necessary of course -- I was never in Athens to see where Socrates had founded philosophy (and where much later the Apostle Paul perhaps spoke the words recorded in Acts 17.16-34) --. [BACK]

Related page: Michael Wolff's Cambridge Recollections, 1945-1947.

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