To Y. Smythies, 7.4.[1944]

by Witty Ludwig

                                                                                                                c/o Mrs Mann
                                                                                                                10 Langland Rd
                                                                                                                Mumbles Swansea


Dear Smythies,
   Thanks for letter, dated Thursday.  The news of your joining the roman catholic church was indeed unexpected.  But whether it’s good, or bad news–  how should I know?  The following seems clear to me.  Deciding to become a Christian is like deciding to give up walking on the ground and do tight-rope walking instead, where nothing is more easy than to slip and every slip can be fatal.  Now if a friend of mine were to take up tight-rope walking and told me that in order to do it he thinks he has to wear a particular kind of garment I should say to him:  If you’re serious about that tight-rope walking I’m certainly not the man to tell you what outfit to wear, or not to wear, as I’ve never tried to walk anywhere else than on the ground.  Further:  your decision to wear that kind of garment is, in a way, terrible, however I look at it.  For if it means that you’re serious about the thing it’s terrible, even though it may be the best and greatest thing you can do.  And if you’re dressing up and then don’t do the tight-rope act its [sic] terrible in a different way.  There’s one thing, however, I want to warn you against.  There are certain devices (weights attached in a particular way to the body) which steady you on the rope and make your act easy, and in fact no more dangerous than walking on the ground.  This sort of device should not be part of your outfit.– All this comes to saying:  I cannot applaud your decision to go in for rope walking, because, having always stayed on the ground myself, I have no right to encourage another man in such an enterprise.  If, however, I am asked whether I’ld rather you went in for rope walking, or for sham[m]ing, I’ll certainly say: rather anything than the latter.–  I hope you’ll never despair, and I also hope that you’ll always remain capable of despairing.   I sent you a letter yesterday saying why I’ld rather not see you at the present moment.  I should like to see you when my work here is done, or almost done.
   I’m really interested in what sort of a man you are and will be. This will, for me, be the eating of the pudding.
   So long!  Good wishes!
                                                                                                Ludwig Wittgenstein




* As a point of interest, I seem to remember Drury commenting that Wittgenstein was partly responsible for this conversion because the latter had advised the reading of Kierkegaard.