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Congregation of the Regent House on 15 June 2001

A Congregation of the Regent House was held this day at 11.10 a.m. The Chancellor was present.

Processions formed in the Schools Arcade at 11.05 a.m., passed round the Senate-House Yard, and entered the Senate-House by the South Door and the East Door.

Music was performed at the Congregation by the Choirs of King's College and St John's College, and by the King's Trumpeters.

The following titular degrees were conferred:

Doctor of Law (honoris causa)

SYDNEY BRENNER
C.H., F.R.S., Ph.D.

Director of the Molecular Sciences Institute, Berkeley, formerly Director of the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology, Fellow of King's College

Doctor of Law (honoris causa)

MAMPHELA ALETTA RAMPHELE

Managing Director of the World Bank, formerly Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cape Town

Doctor of Science (honoris causa)

ROBERT GEOFFREY EDWARDS
C.B.E., F.R.S., M.A.

Emeritus Professor of Human Reproduction,

Fellow of Churchill College

Doctor of Science (honoris causa)

SIR SAMUEL FREDERICK EDWARDS
F.R.S., M.A., Ph.D.

Emeritus Cavendish Professor of Physics, Fellow of Gonville and Caius College, formerly Pro-Vice-Chancellor

Doctor of Science (honoris causa)

JOHN ANTHONY POPLE
F.R.S., M.A., Ph.D.

Trustees' Professor of Chemistry, North-Western University, Honorary Fellow of Trinity College

Doctor of Letters (honoris causa)

MARGARET ATWOOD
C.C., F.R.S.C.

Writer

Doctor of Letters (honoris causa)

MICHAEL FRAYN
B.A.

Playwright, Honorary Fellow of Emmanuel College

Doctor of Letters (honoris causa)

DAVID KELLOGG LEWIS

Professor of Philosophy, Princeton University

 

The Orator delivered the following speeches when presenting to The Chancellor the recipients of Honorary Degrees:

TERRIBILITER, ut psaltes ait,1 mirificeque nos facti sumus homines; constat origo nostra unde concepti crescimus e triciens miliens centenis milibus elementorum, quae si continua serie euoluta essent, uix tris excederent pedes; sed rursus in nucleum inuoluta non dici potest quam arte illigata spissentur. uerum ad haec elementa noscenda quot numero qualique sint officio hic uir insignissimam dedit operam.

nam post duplicem illam hereditatis helicem inuentam, uisum est nostrum genus multiplicius esse quam ut fons ipse eorum esset quae proxima inuestigarentur; huic multis inspectis animalibus obtulit sese uermis quidam, Caenorhabditis elegans ut nuncupatur: cuius uermis, quia passim per orbem terrarum dispersus in solo uiuit aetate breui prompto fetu, adeo facilis est usus ut late sit exemplo quomodo sua ratione creatum crescat animal, eiusque iam primi animalium, multis hoc duce inuestigantibus, tota sit aperta ratio.

hi se fluctuante motu mouent; sunt tamen eorum qui claudicare uideantur: quod si quis miretur qui fiat, ratione genetrice cognita manifestum est ut in serie elementorum aliqua corrupta sit causa, quae corruptela fit natura, neque aliud est quam uariatio illa Carolina nunc demum altius intellecta; quae series si forte redintegretur - sed occupare rem uideor, non multo secus atque hic uir solet, qui non modo in machinis quibus suppeditetur operi excogitandis ingenio est auidissimo, sed semper quid proximum mente complectatur praestat uidendo. ita dux est inter pares, idemque scientia liberalissima.

praesento uobis uirum inter Comites Honoratissimos adscriptum, Doctorem in Philosophia, Regiae Societatis Sodalem, Elaboratorio Biologicae Molecularis olim praefectum, Scholae Scientiae Molecularis apud Berkeleienses Rectorem, Collegi Regalis Socium

 

SYDNEY BRENNER

1 Ps. 139. 14.

WE human beings, as the psalmist says, are fearfully and wonderfully made; our conception and development are based in a genetic sequence of some three billion units of DNA, which if laid out in a line would stretch about three feet, though they exist rolled up in a nucleus of unutterably tiny dimensions. In finding out their number and their functions a most notable part has been played by this man.

After the discovery of the famous double helix, it appeared that Homo sapiens had too complex a structure to be the starting-point for investigation of the total genome. From a range of possible alternatives Sydney Brenner selected a nematode worm called Caenorhabditis elegans. It exists throughout the world, living its short life on soil bacteria and breeding readily, and use of it was sufficiently straightforward for it to become widely adopted as the model animal for studying how a genetic programme builds a complex organism. Many took part in the research; Sydney Brenner had led it. In 1998 it became the first complex organism to have its whole genetic sequence unravelled.

The worms move with an undulating motion; yet some can be seen to move clumsily. Now why should that be so? Once the gene sequence is known, it is plain that the cause lies in a piece of the sequence being faulty. Such faults occur naturally, being nothing more than Darwinian variation, now more closely understood as mutations; if that bit of the sequence could somehow be restored to normality - but I'm clearly getting ahead of the game, much as this man himself has always done. In designing experimental devices to facilitate research he has a most active talent, and he has always excelled in seeing the next project for him to address. Hence where many are good he is a leader; he is also most generous with his knowledge.

 

I present to you

SYDNEY BRENNER, C.H., F.R.S., Ph.D.,

Director of the Molecular Sciences Institute, Berkeley, formerly Director of the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology, Fellow of King's College

 

VTINAM laudandi mihi mos et usus is adesset qui matri huius feminae! quae quippe laudatrix suae gentis, cum filia summum procancellari munus suscepit, carmen sermone patrio cum tripudiis edidit, id quod omnibus maximo fuit gaudio. eueniat aeque nobis, more nostrati usis, laudationem aptam idoneamque componere.

puella haec humili obscuroque nata loco ad summos est honores perducta officiis tribus functa quibus solebant uiri fungi, medici, sapientis, procuratoris. quae fecisse permagnum ipsum est sed tanta uirtute fecisse huius unius est. ut tamen herba sub calce et caemento latens ad naturam suam explendam aliquando perrumpit, sic breui exemplo difficultates et angustias doceamus quibus haec obsessa peruicerit.

nam relegata (nec fuit mirum) in ultimos patriae septentriones primo crudelissime interemptum audit praegnas uirum, tum filium Lucina non fauente aegre parit. sed in preces a familiaribus uersa, id quod mutare non posset ut aequo animo ferret, quod posset ut auderet, ut sapientia utrumque discerneret, mox dignitati suae consulens operam ad incolas eius regionis dabat, quorum maxima pars matronae erant eaeque pauperrimae; miserias notauit, linguam didicit, multa moribus earum cognitis sagaciter suasit, remque adeo bene una cum eis gerebat ut relegatione tandem sublata non prius remigraret quam ualetudinarium per manus stabile tradidisset.

res ipsius in cardine erat; quae alio conuersa, primo paupertatem ciuium accuratius indagauit, deinde uniuersitatis administrandae suscepit munus, nunc prouinciae etiam maiori praefecta opem ad liberos quotquot ubique distribuit educandos.

o matre alacri filia alacrior,1

patriae sortes ostendit aetas tua.

 

praesento uobis Vniuersitatis Vrbis Promuntori olim Pro-cancellariam, inter Mensae Gentium Rectores,

 

MAMPHELA ALETTA RAMPHELE

 

1 See Horace Odes 1. 16. 1.

AMONG the Sotho people of South Africa, welcome and praise have their own special form. I wish I could emulate this lady's mother: when her daughter was installed as Vice-Chancellor, she sang her own text and danced in celebration, giving joy to all. Let us hope that we can adequately praise Mamphela Ramphele in our own traditional fashion.

She was born in lowly circumstances, and born a girl as well; she has climbed to pinnacles of power by doing three jobs that were typically for men to do, in medicine, in scholarship, and in management. To have done all that is extraordinary in itself; to have done it all so well is a unique achievement. Grass-seed even under concrete comes through in the end to fulfil its proper nature; the obstacles natural and contrived that beset this lady on her path to success are indeed remarkable.

When her banning order came, as it was bound to do, she was sent to North Transvaal. There, first she learnt when pregnant of the murder of Steve Biko; then his son was born to her in great travail. Friends reminded her of the prayer 'for serenity to accept the things one cannot change, for courage to do those one can, and for wisdom to know the difference'; she took stock of her worth and made her medical skills available to the local people, most of whom were women living in great deprivation. She marked their afflictions, and when she had learnt their language used her understanding of their traditional wisdom to advise them with her own; so well was she working with them that when the banning order was lifted, she did not go back south before ensuring that her clinic was secure.

It was a turning-point. She changed career. First came her scholarly studies, published as Uprooting Poverty; then she was called to the Vice-Chancellorship; now she guides the World Bank in distributing resources for education. Lady, your energies surpass your mother's, and your own life spells the fortunes of your country.

I present to you

MAMPHELA ALETTA RAMPHELE,

Managing Director of the World Bank, formerly Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cape Town

 

IN omni rerum natura quid magis est admirandum quam uis ipsa procreandi? quae ut communis omnibus animalibus uidetur esse, sunt tamen ubique gentium quibus non nascantur liberi dolorque silentio subrepat. generationem hominum, rem diu pudore simul et religione circumsessam, cum sibi hic uir ad scrutationem elegit, uix moras difficultatesque rei prouidit; quem uirum cum inuestigatoris qua possit obstructus esse fortuna tum sapientis ipsius qua spe perstare, qua patientia debeat, exemplum ostendo duplex.

Sarrae partum permisit anui deus, iure suo nempe fretus. sterilitati aliarum qua tamen ratione succurreretur? quaeri coeptum erat, sed frustra: libellos legenti spes facile poneretur. oua matris ut nascatur puer cum semine coniungantur necesse est, per fistulas Fallopianas ut dicuntur itinere facto: quae fistulae non sunt omnibus satis apertae. quid si oua manu e corpore secreta maturataque in fistula uitrea rursus in uterum cum semine reponerentur? at ouum ut fecundetur quibus condicionibus fit paratum? ista facile percontor, sed bis septem annos infelix operis hic uir est passus; semper autem, quo pauciora medicamenta adhibebantur quoque propius ad consuetudinem ibatur humanam, eo melius res gerebatur. postremo, ouo uno fecundo facto in uterum non modo inserto sed etiam accepto, mensibus exactis nascitur puella cui Ludouicae Fuscae appellatae nomen additur Laetitia; iamque laetantur alii sescenti.

hic tamen laureatus abit? non ille quidem, sed libris libellisque permultis conscriptis procreationem humanam apertiorem facit, meritoque studiorum horum uocatur pater.

praesento uobis Magistrum in Artibus, Excellentissimi Ordinis Imperi Britannici Commendatorem, Regiae Societatis Sodalem, Generationis Humanae Professorem Emeritum, Collegi Churchilliani Socium

 

ROBERT GEOFFREY EDWARDS

 

IN all creation perhaps nothing is so wonderful as procreation itself. It is a power apparently common to all living things, but there are always couples somewhere to whom no children are born, and in the silence grief may grow. Personal and religious scruples have long invested the topic; when this man chose to work on it, he can hardly have foreseen all its inherent difficulties. He is an exemplary figure not only for the problems that can beset researchers but also for the scholar's need to endure them with hope and patience.

God granted Sarah a son in her old age; that was indeed His privilege. But what help was there for the barrenness of other women? Some exploration had been done, but the record of its failure made sad reading. For a child to be born, the mother's eggs must leave the ovarium and pass to meet the spermatozoa by way of the Fallopian tubes; in some women these tubes are not adequately open. What if eggs could be taken direct from the ovarium, brought to readiness in a glass tube and then returned to the womb artificially? But what are the right conditions to prepare an egg for fertilisation? The question is easy to put, but this man spent seven lean years twice over striving to find the answer; as it happens, each time the contribution of drugs was reduced and approximation to normal procedure was increased, so experiment went better. At last one fertilised egg was established on the womb wall, and in due course a girl was born, her name Louise Brown, Louise Joy Brown. Countless other parents since have known such joy too.

Another man might rest upon his laurels; not this man. In books and articles he continues to make the processes of human procreation better known, and he is rightly called the father of this science.

 

I present to you

ROBERT GEOFFREY EDWARDS, C.B.E., F.R.S., M.A.,

Emeritus Professor of Human Reproduction, Fellow of Churchill College

 

AEGYPTII fuligine et liquore in usum atramenti compositis eo scientiae se contulerant ubi multa per saecula usui deest ratio. nam qui fit ut liquido quodam flumine uinum ex uuis prematur, farina per cribra cadat, niues in colle suspensae subito lapsu descendant? sciendum enim est qua figura sint talis materiae elementa quoque umore constituta, quantaque cum funduntur accliuitate se praecipitent, et praesertim si sit farina cum aqua commixta uel alius utilitatis inter omnes liquor, quo quasi reptatu elementa ea quae multiplici uocantur esse forma more serpentium fluitare uideantur.

iam difficultates rei uideritis. hic tamen uir, quippe mathematicis rebus eruditissimus, mathematicis rationibus initis explicari posse rem uidit. nihil temere turbauit sed aliquid in elaboratorium Cavendishianum omnino intulit noui: nam ex omnibus eius generis quod memorauimus materiis uix cuiusquam nunc magis interest quam cibi; quae materies quomodo se gerat non frequens inter physicos nostros explicando fuit, sed hic sententiis formandis adeo feruet ut passim eas in commentario scripserit dum in carro uehitur, dum in concilio nescioquo sedet - immo nunc quidem aliquam fortasse meditetur! sed in concilio dixi? ita uero: uidebatur enim uerba disserentium notare sed potius formulas creabat; et in carro? ita uero, nec tum formulas modo sed etiam discipulos informabat, quos nisi comites in carrum inuitasset uix alias fouere potuisset.

occupatissimum habemus uirum, qui quantum et huic uniuersitati et aliis rei publicae conciliis multis profuerit haud dici potest, tam sapiens et dux sapientium quam rei gerendae capacissimus.

praesento uobis Equitem Auratum, Magistrum in Artibus, Doctorem in Philosophia, Regiae Societatis Sodalem, Rei Physicae Professorem Cavendishianum Emeritum, Vniuersitatis Procancellari uice olim functum, Collegi Gonvilli et Gai Socium

 

SAMUEL FREDERICK EDWARDS

 

WHEN the Egyptians invented ink from a combination of liquid and soot, they had entered a field of knowledge where practice outstripped theory for a very long time. When wine is squeezed from grapes, or flour goes through a sieve, or snow slides off a hillside in a sudden avalanche, why do they flow just so? One needs to know the shape of their constituent units, and the moisture content, and the angle at which movement will start, and in the case of flour in water and other such liquids of everyday interest, how their molecules, called polymers, move by reptation, snaking along their own length.

The problems are obvious. Sam Edwards received a mathematical education. He saw that these things could be understood through mathematics. There was nothing random in his spin as he brought something entirely new to the Cavendish: of all the substances of the sort mentioned above, the most interesting at the moment is food, and analysis of the behaviour of food has not been a priority of physicists. Sam Edwards, however, bubbles with equations, so much so that he jots them in notebooks everywhere, when travelling on a train or sitting in some council meeting - he may well be meditating one now! In council did I say? Yes: he appeared to be noting what was said, but actually he was creating equations. And on the train? Yes, and not just equations, but research students too: he would scarcely have had time to supervise them otherwise.

We behold a very busy man. His service, not only to this University but to many other councils and bodies of state, is beyond telling, and his talents in management run parallel with his qualities as scholar and guide of scholars.

 

I present to you

Sir SAMUEL FREDERICK EDWARDS, F.R.S., M.A., Ph.D.,

Emeritus Cavendish Professor of Physics, formerly Pro-Vice-Chancellor, Fellow of Gonville and Caius College

 

POST bellum, posteaquam uis et ardor sapientium in uias singularis cogebantur, quae liberatio curarum, quae multitudo studiorum, quae uariatio animorum est facta! in quibus hic uir, rebus mathematicis optime eruditus, animum inde ad structuram conexusque molecularum intendit. ratio iam posita erat qua cognosci illa possent, sed ratione tantum, non re, poterant; dixerat uir illustrissimus Paulus Dirac leges quibus rei physicae multa tractari reique chimicae omnia possent cognitissimas esse; obstare tamen sententiarum exprimendarum difficultatem quin eis legibus uterere. ita haerebat inuestigatio elementorum qua ratione in moleculis tenerentur

inter se nexu minus aut magis indupedita.1

compositione sunt multiplices moleculae plurimae, quoque multipliciores, eo maior est multitudo eorum quae adeo incerta sint ut plura demum uarientur quam ut ratio comprehendat omnino, nec prius quam machinae computatrices irruperunt fieri poterat ut moleculae cuiusquam maioris uariationes tractarentur omnes simul. ualuit tum magnopere ars huius uiri mathematica. primo enim non exactis rationibus factis sed uicinis modo uero, simpliciorum molecularum confecit studium: elementa uestigauit aquae, editoque libello etiam nunc celeberrimo, flexos ostendit esse nexus uaporis eius quem leuissimum habemus. tum quis paratior qui machinis illis nuper adortis usus consilium nexuum intellegendorum semper exactius iniret? quo reperto consilio non iam uersatur quisquam in elaboratorio chimico quin gratus utatur.

studia quamquam trans Atlanticum iamdiu sequitur, huc saepius regressus scientiam suam omnibus impertit is qui ipse principio (ut uxor eius natu) Cantabrigiensis est.

praesento uobis Magistrum in Artibus, Doctorem in Philosophia, Regiae Societatis Sodalem, in Vniuersitate Caurina Chimiae pro Curatoribus Professorem, Praemio Nobeliano in Chimia ornatum, Collegi Sanctae et Indiuiduae Trinitatis honoris causa Socium

 

JOHN ANTHONY POPLE

 

1 Lucretius de rerum natura 1. 240.

AFTER the war, when the need for scientists to focus their efforts on its demands was over, there must have been great relief and a great sense of new directions. John Pople, for instance, had received an excellent grounding in mathematics, but he turned his attention to the structural properties of molecules. Quantum mechanics had established before the war the possibility of knowledge in this field, but the great scholar Paul Dirac had said, 'The laws necessary for the mathematical treatment of large parts of physics and the whole of chemistry are fully known; the difficulty lies only in the fact that the application of these laws leads to equations that are too complex to be solved.' Hence a pause in research into the patterns of atom-bonding within molecules.

Most molecules are of considerable complexity, and the greater the complexity, the greater the number of variables, to a point where theory could not be applied at all. Only with the arrival of computers could any attempt be made at handling all the variables in a large molecule together. Now John Pople's mathematical skills proved their worth. He had set out on a study of smaller molecules, using equations allowing for approximation; a paper on the structure of water demonstrating the distortion of the hydrogen bonds has been of lasting value. When computers came, few were better prepared than he to set up a programme for investigating bonds with ever greater precision. There is no chemical laboratory in the world where that programme of his is not in use.

His studies have long been pursued in the United States, but he regularly returns to Cambridge and has always made his knowledge and understanding available to all. Cambridge is for him (as it literally is for his wife) alma mater.

 

I present to you

JOHN ANTHONY POPLE, F.R.S., M.A., Ph.D.,

Trustees' Professor of Chemistry, North-Western University, Nobel Prize-winner in Chemistry, Honorary Fellow of Trinity College

 

'FABULA cum occuparis, omnino non est fabula sed rerum quasi indigesta moles; tantum posthac uel similis fabulae uidetur res esse, tum cum audienti seu tibi narras siue aliis.' multa bene scribit haec femina et (ut audiuistis) de scribendo quoque bene scribit quippe artis eius scientissima. cuius libros si legis mox intelleges et feminam scribere, non uirum, et Canadensem eam esse. ista tamen si ne uerbum quidem sed uitam modo legisses cognoscere poteras; sin a libris duxisses, melius aestimares utrum magis ualeat. sunt enim quae sexum eius urgeant; praestare mihi uidetur quod puella sex mensis quotannis ab urbe et ludo procul inter siluas lacusque patriae aestiuabat.

uox est huius tamquam e deserto clamantis, omnium patrona quibus est aut nulla aut summissa uox, modo feminarum et liberorum, modo uirorum si forte spernuntur, uel animalium - quorum 'erat Carolus quidam, sed cantherius is quidem, et quamuis bonus auditor idemque solacium magnum, consilio egenti mihi paulum modo profuit' - uel etiam rerum inanimarum, lapidum uirgultorum caeli aquae et si quid sub aqua latet; quae omnia pari studio curaque commota spectat, narrat, more tesserarum aeque ponit in opus. ut autem ea quae quis sermone plebeio mittat aure notat acutissima, ita apertissima mente intellegit quae quem nescio an puderet se fateri in animo habere. quae optime reddit cum facit carmina.

si quod praedicaret haberet, praeconem ait se conducturam; potius inuentione et narratione adeo praecellit ut digna sit quae in numero Homeridarum habeatur.

praesento uobis carminum fabularum creatricem potentissimam

 

MARGARET ATWOOD

 

'WHEN you are in the middle of a story, it isn't a story at all, but only a confusion... It's only afterwards that it becomes anything like a story at all - when you are telling it, to yourself or someone else.' Margaret Atwood is a fine and prolific writer, and on the topic of writing too (as you have heard) she writes as an expert in the craft. Read her books, and you will soon divine that it is a woman writing, not a man, and also that she hails from Canada. You could have discovered that from blurb and dustcover; got from inside her books, however, it would help you realise which fact matters more. She has been claimed by feminists; more notable in my view is her upbringing, in which she spent half the year far from city and school up country, summering among the trees and lakes of the north.

Hers is a voice as it were from a wilderness, a voice for all those who have little or none of their own. Sometimes she speaks for women and for children, sometimes for men of low esteem; sometimes she speaks for animals - 'there was Charley, but he was a horse, and although a good listener and a comfort, of not much avail when I needed advice' - or even for things inanimate, sticks and stones, sky and water, and for things lurking in water. Compassionate, dispassionate, she gazes at them all with an equal care, reports them, and lays them levelly in the mosaic of her text. She has a shrewd ear for the cadences of ordinary conversation; she also understands with a penetrating honesty those thoughts one might well be embarrassed to acknowledge. And all these things she does best in her poetry.

'If I had a message,' she says, 'I would rent a billboard.' Her command of story and language allows us, however, to count her among Homer's children.

 

I present to you

MARGARET ATWOOD,

maker of poems and stories

 

COMOEDIAE genus est quale multas inter gentis communicatum esse uideatur; forma singularis est et propria, sales uenerei, scaena portis frequens. eius modi fabulam olim finxit hic uir, enarratione dignam: introire una porta ianitricem, catillo pisciculi spectatissimam, et exire mox altera; tertia par amantium introire, portasque proximas ad decimam usque temptare; introire deinde par seniorum; ire redire interea lenonio more ianitricem; ingredi per fenestram furem; sed haec omnia non tam agi quam ad agendum parari, eo consilio ut introitus et exitus omnis, iterum ac saepius aut comitante pisciculo actus aut non, in animis spectatorum imprimatur. secundo actu scaena uersa ea quae prius coram agerentur nunc post scaenam agi; in scaena autem ab eisdem gesticulatoribus alteram agi fabulam uelut ab ipsis compositam. tertium actum omnino silemus: de re tanto ordine confusa nihil possumus. nomen fabellae tantum damus, Voces a tergo.

laudes illius operis, quod plurimas in linguas est uersum, perpetuas accipit hic uir; sunt autem qui ea breuiora malint quae iunior scriptitabat urbana lepida ridicula. sed tamen is dicitur esse qui quidlibet scribere possit: nam quicquid elegerit ad fingendum (eaque multa sunt et uaria) id tam assiduo labore et inuentione uestigat ut fabulam de disputatione recentius creatam duorum sapientium in urbe Danorum habita collaudent passim tam periti rei quam imperiti, et in libro cui nomen est Praeceps adumbratus sit admirabili doctrina pictor ille Bredensis. fabulas insignissimas praeterea in sermonem nostrum ipse elegantissime e Russo Galloque uertit, arte illa fretus qua se primo nobis commendauit.

praesento uobis Baccalaureum in Artibus, scriptorem, narratorem, interpretem, Collegi Emmanuelis honoris causa Socium

 

MICHAEL FRAYN

 

THERE is a type of comedy called farce, whose elements are common in many cultures; the form is particularly strict, there is sexual innuendo, and the set bristles with doors. Michael Frayn wrote such a play; it is well worth describing. By one door enter a housekeeper, charged with a plate of sardines; soon she exits by another. By a third enter a pair of young lovers; they try every other door up to the tenth. Enter an older pair. Meantime the housekeeper goes in and out like any shrewd old madam. Enter by a window a burglar. And all this is presented as a play in rehearsal, so that every entrance and exit, with or without sardines, is stamped by repetition on the audience's memory. In the second act the scenery is the other way round: what was being acted on stage is now being acted backstage, and on stage the same actors are now performing a second play of their own. The third act reduces me to silence: before such organised chaos I am helpless. The name of the play? Noises Off.

Praise for Noises Off (it has been translated into many languages) continues to flood in; yet some still prefer for their particular wit and fun those short articles that Michael Frayn wrote when he was young. In fact people say that he could write whatever he liked: every topic he chooses to develop (and there are all sorts of them) he pursues with detailed research as well as with great imagination. There is, for instance, the play he wrote recently called Copenhagen, a debate between two scientists; experts and non-experts alike have praised it all round the world; or there is the novel Headlong, containing a splendidly erudite study of the artist Pieter Bruegel. He has also made outstanding translations of plays by Anouilh and Chekhov; skill at French and Russian earned him his first admission here.

 

I present to you

MICHAEL FRAYN, B.A.,

playwright, novelist, translator, Honorary Fellow of Emmanuel College

 

HUIUS mundi, ut C. ait Plinius,1 extera indagare nec interest hominum nec capit humanae coniectura mentis. furor est, profecto furor, egredi ex eo et scrutari extera, quasi uero mensuram ullius rei possit agere qui sui nesciat aut mens hominis uidere quae mundus ipse non capiat. ecce qui sic furit, sapientiae multorum euersor. huic enim quippe philosopho bene conuenit multitudo mundorum quo confugiat: nam coniectura illa capta, dummodo ea probabilitate qua noster habentur esse, ea quae solitis condicionibus difficiliora esse uideantur fieri potest ut his aliis disceptata soluantur. quae ratio mundorum possibilium nuncupatur.

sic optime de argumento Anselmi conscripsit, quod in propositiones tam iustas redegit ut nihil clarius, nihil aequius uideretur esse, easque tam cottidiano sermone distinxit ut uis ratiocinalis paene incautum corripiat. exempla undique excerpit: nam querela inuenta, quam admodum barbare effutiuit praedo quidam australis, ad illud explorandum utitur obstringine ita iureiurando probus homo possit ut mentiri coactus improbus esse uideatur.

philosophorum qui nunc sunt nemo tam multa tam uaria tractauit eaque tam inter se concinentia ostendit, quorum multa quae iunior posuit si cui sunt improbata probat senior. qui si non in hac aula nunc esset, mallet fortasse in tertio eo ordine esse ubi per speculum transgressa Alicia carro publico uehebatur - nisi quod illa eiecta est, sed hic nescio an usque quadratum circuire uel circulum quadrare potius uellet, sermone locuplete salibusque uariis incitatus et occasionibus ratiocinandi infinitis.

praesento uobis Philosophiae apud Princetonenses Professorem

 

DAVID KELLOGG LEWIS

1 Naturalis Historia 2. 1 & 4.

'TO hunt for things outside this world,' said the elder Pliny, 'holds no interest for man, nor can man's mind hypothesise appropriately. It is madness, yes, madness, to transgress our bounds and look beyond, as if anyone could get a measure of anything who knows no measure of himself, or as if the human mind could see what the world itself cannot grasp.' Well, here is such a madman, who has overset much conventional wisdom. As a philosopher David Lewis is very happy to summon up a multitude of worlds: if the hypothesis can be made, and if those worlds can be held to exist as concretely as ours does, then problems of philosophy which seem too difficult to solve on the usual terms can nevertheless be solved when discussed on the new terms. This is called the theory of possible worlds.

On this basis he has explored Anselm's ontological argument, reducing it to premises of unsurpassable justice, clarity, and equity and sorting them out in language so straightforward that the force of his analysis then takes the reader by surprise. He draws his instances from a wide range: coming across Ned Kelly's somewhat illiterate Jerilderie letter (in part a rant against the police), he used it to work out whether a good man can be so bound by an oath that he is compelled to lie and so must appear a bad man.

No living philosopher has worked in so many different fields with such a fundamental coherence of approach; hypotheses he formed in his youth he has reinforced when they were challenged in his maturity. Suppose he were not in this Senate-House now: what other possible world might he prefer? Perhaps it would be that third square through the looking-glass, when Alice was travelling by train - except that she got out, and he might rather stay circling the square or squaring the circle, stimulated by abundant conversation, all sorts of wit, and unlimited analytical possibilities.

 

I present to you

DAVID KELLOGG LEWIS,

Professor of Philosophy, Princeton University


T. J. MEAD, Registrary

END OF THE OFFICIAL PART OF THE 'REPORTER'


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Cambridge University Reporter, 20 Month 2001
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