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Coming to Winchester


Persecution at prep school
Freeman Dyson Scientist
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Then I went to what, in England, is called a prep school, which is a boarding school. Which was a very... this was the worst period of my life; from the ages eight till 12, I was at this school which was modelled on Dicken's Dotheboys Hall, which was a... really a brutal place.

[Q] Away from home.

That was away from home, and so I was boarding there and I was utterly miserable for most of the time, and being tortured more by the boys than by the teachers. I think the teachers on the whole liked me and the boys hated me because I was smarter than they were. So I was a member of a small group of intellectuals who were persecuted. So that's also part of my life and I learned at that point that most people are very stupid and brutal and one shouldn't expect too much.

[Q] And it's traumatic because you were wrenched from your home at this early age, I mean you're eight and...

Yes. I don't say it was all that traumatic because it was the normal thing and most of the boys at the school were in the same situation. We were... it was... it grew up during the 19th century I suppose, because so many of the British families were living in India and such places so they sent their kids home to be educated in boarding schools. So the boarding school was accepted as very much... the natural order of things for middle class families, and so though... it was ... it wasn't expected that one would enjoy it. I mean the whole point was, in fact, to toughen you up, and so the bullying and brutality was not actually regarded as particularly harmful, it was just building your character.

Freeman Dyson (1923-2020), who was born in England, moved to Cornell University after graduating from Cambridge University with a BA in Mathematics. He subsequently became a professor and worked on nuclear reactors, solid state physics, ferromagnetism, astrophysics and biology. He published several books and, among other honours, was awarded the Heineman Prize and the Royal Society's Hughes Medal.

Listeners: Sam Schweber

Silvan Sam Schweber is the Koret Professor of the History of Ideas and Professor of Physics at Brandeis University, and a Faculty Associate in the Department of the History of Science at Harvard University. He is the author of a history of the development of quantum electro mechanics, "QED and the men who made it", and has recently completed a biography of Hans Bethe and the history of nuclear weapons development, "In the Shadow of the Bomb: Oppenheimer, Bethe, and the Moral Responsibility of the Scientist" (Princeton University Press, 2000).

Tags: India, Winchester College, Charles Dickens

Duration: 1 minute, 46 seconds

Date story recorded: June 1998

Date story went live: 24 January 2008