Letters exchanged in 1952 between Bryan Wilson, then a student at Leicester, and Norbert Elias, then a part-time lecturer still resident in London.

University College, Leicester 

30th May, 1952


Dear Dr. Elias,


Our course in Social Psychology ended so suddenly this last week that neither my colleagues nor I quite realised that we should not be seeing you again prior to our examinations. It was a cause of genuine regret to all of us that we had not taken the opportunity of thanking you after that – unexpectedly – final lecture. I trust that you will forgive us for that omission.


My fellow students have asked me to express to you the appreciation of all six of us for the course you have given, and the care and trouble to which you gone for all of us. We should like to thank you most sincerely for all your kindness. We are all of us aware that you have had to make the long and fatiguing journey up to Leicester and back again on each occasion that you have lectured to us, and we are all of us happy to infer, from the great care you have taken for our good instruction, that we have had as our tutor someone who considered us worth all that trouble.


Whatever may be our respective fortunes in finals a great deal of the credit for any success we may attain – not merely in Psychology, but in all branches of our studies – will be yours. But more important than this, and quite apart from the immediate prospect of examinations, all of us have found a great deal in your lectures which is already of use to us – and will I trust become increasingly so – in our everyday lives.


Yours sincerely,

Bryan Wilson.


11 Primrose Gardens

Apt. 3

7 June 1952


Dear Mr Wilson


Thank you very much for your letter. I am very pleased to think that I was able to help you and your fellow students a little, and it was of course very good of you to tell me so.


I on my part enjoyed my work among you particularly because you made me feel that I could tell you more than one can find in textbooks, more even than was strictly necessary for the examination. In my experience a growing number of university students learn their stuff a little mechanically, exclusively with an eye to the examination. And although I never lost sight of the immediate purpose, I was very pleasantly surprised when I found that you were really interested in wider and more fundamental issues and that I could talk to you about more than a series of unconnected social and psychological data.You see, in the course of one’s life, if one thinks at all, one gets insight in a good many things which one never has the time to put down in writing, which one can only hand on by word of mouth to younger men and women under-standing and able enough to take it up and to use it in their own way. That you allowed me to do a little of this handing on made me very happy.


I wish you personally and your fellow students the very best success in the examination and after.


Sincerely, yours

Norbert Elias



Figurations, Newsletter of the Norbert Elias Foundation, No. 22 (Dec. 2004), p. 20