Here at the Royal Society Archive we’ve just finished cataloguing the papers of Maurice Stevenson Bartlett (1910-2002), and we’re very excited about it. On first glance you could be forgiven for thinking that the personal collection of a statistician could be a little dry, but in this case you’d be much mistaken…
Maurice Bartlett’s achievements and honours are lengthy. He was a Fellow of the Royal Society, President of the Royal Statistical Society, winner of the Guy Medals in Silver and Gold at the Royal Statistical Society, and a Foreign Associate of the US National Academy of Sciences. He published several books and numerous papers on statistics. His key text, themes of which are repeated throughout the collection, is entitled ‘An introduction to stochastic processes’ and was first published in 1955.
Bartlett was an esteemed statistician, well-liked by his colleagues, and his personal collection features academic correspondence filled with both respect and fondness. Many of his correspondents are writing to ask for opinions of their work, as well as showing an interest in Bartlett personally. There is one particular letter (MSB/2/72) that caught my eye, in which ‘John’, editor of the Royal Statistical Society’s B Series, is completely outraged at Bartlett’s paper not being accepted for publication – despite being the editor of the journal, it seems that ‘John’ had heard nothing about the rejection of the paper!
One of the real joys of cataloguing Bartlett’s papers was being privileged to see his artistic talent displayed through areas of the more personal records. The collection comprises beautiful watercolours painted while in Venice, handmade cards for Bartlett’s wife celebrating birthdays and anniversaries, and several portraits.
One file particularly (MSB/1/3/9) contains caricatures of colleagues and, most interestingly, a rather menacing dentist and an apparently angry clergyman. These caricatures show Bartlett’s sense of humour and fun; wouldn’t it be interesting to know what inspired these particular drawings! He also designed the cover for several issues of ‘The Dial’, a Cambridge University student magazine for creative writing.
In addition to his artwork, Bartlett’s collection contains four short stories written by him. In one of these, an autobiographical piece entitled ‘Over half a century of international “hiccups”’ (MSB/1/2/3), Bartlett writes of his time travelling the world as a scientist, particularly talking of food and drink. He writes about his experiences eating reindeer meatballs in Sweden, experiencing a supposedly mild curry in India, and encountering a cup of tea in America that ‘still makes me shudder’.
In another tongue-in-cheek story entitled ‘A cautionary tale’ (MSB/2/68), Bartlett writes about a tile cutter who was ‘an enthusiastic follower of the new mathematics’, and who ends up looking for a new kind of ‘anti-tile’ to solve his equation, while his brother ‘is suffering a nervous breakdown trying to divide 1 by 0’. Perhaps this is funnier if you are a brilliant mathematician!
Bartlett’s importance in the field of statistics, as well as his creative talent, make this a fascinating collection on many levels. It will interest historians interested in the development of statistics, readers looking for ‘a silly story’, and art enthusiasts wishing to see a talented amateur’s small collection of artworks.