Eric Temple Bell on Abram Besicovitch

Eric Temple Bell mentions placing Abram Besicovitch in a number of letters written to Oswald Veblen. The extracts below have been transcribed by Douglas Rogers who has added a number of comments.

ETB to OV, 22nd August, 1926.

Recently I heard from several friends in Oxford of another of those Russian mathematicians who wishes to visit America. This man is Besicovich - of whom you have doubtless heard. Hardy (G.H.), I understand, really wishes Bes, to see the mathematical places in the U.S., but hesitates to approach the right Board, as B's fellowship was awarded primarily for Oxford, and not America. It seems that there might be some objection on the part of the International Board to shifting a man already placed. If so, I was asked to make the above explanation to you, in case you have anything to do with the matter. Besicovich wishes, amongst other things, to see what is being done at Princeton in analysis situs - a subject in which he has worked.

ETB to OV, 4th September, 1926.

Nobody seems to want Besikowitch [sic]; the chief objections are that he's probably averse to much teaching and totally unfamiliar with actual working conditions, especially as regards undergraduates, in American universities. A third objection is that if we import foreigners we thereby necessarily block a possible opening for one of our own Ph.D.'s. Hardy's recommendation is very strong. As I do not know Hardy it is not easy to read between the lines to elicit what truth, if any there is in what he says. I have seen practically everything B. has written; such of it as I can understand is up to date and high class. ... I shall ask anyone I meet (and know) at Columbus (meetings) whether they have an opening for a man recommended by Hardy.

{There are several puzzles here. Who were those "several friends in Oxford" of Bell, and how did he come by them? Why does Bell seem to go out of his way to insist on seemingly distancing himself from G.H. Hardy? What made Hardy so keen on Besicovitch visiting the USA when Hardy himself only first visited in 1928? So far as I could see, the only other time Bell mentions Hardy to Veblen in the surviving correspondence is in 1931.}

ETB to OV, 5th November, 1931.

As to the interesting suggestion that I could get you invited for some lectures here, I fear it is out of the question. The financial stringency has hit us hard. The mathematicians never did have any funds available to pay outside lecturers. The one time when we did pay a lecturer, namely Harald Bohr, was provided for by a crumb dropped from the physicists' banquet. In Hardy's case also the actual money came from the physics budget.

{But Veblen did visit California that year: in a letter to G.H. Hardy of 15th December, 1931, he writes that he is going the next day by car to California, returning to Princeton in early March, before sailing to Europe. In this letter, Veblen asks Hardy's assessment of Leonard Carlitz.}

JOC/EFR May 2013

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