A pet hate of Thomson’s was his name being spelled ‘Thompson’. Any correspondent who did so was wont to find a rather amusing peculiarity in Thomson’s reply. Whatever their name, placed in the middle of it would be the offending ‘p’!
One can only hope that the following letter didn’t provoke the same response:
Those in the statistical know will recognise the signature of Karl Pearson, often referred to as the founder of modern statistics. The first thing we notice about the letter is that Thomson has crossed out the ‘p’! The second, that Pearson is offering Thomson a job at the Francis Galton Laboratory, University of London, despite never having met him before. Such was Thomson’s reputation.
The collection boasts a further two letters from Pearson around the same time. Pearson has misspelled Thomson’s name in all three, so we can only assume Thomson thought better of correcting him!
The second letter offers Thomson more money, and the third graciously accepts Thomson’s decision not to accept the post. In this letter, Pearson tells Thomson ‘I think you have done the wise thing, although it is my loss as I am not likely to get as good a man’.
Thomson treasured the letters his whole life, and they were a great source of pride to him. His son found them after his death, along with other letters which held significance to Thomson, including letters from Edward Thorndike, Derrick Lawley, and Pearson’s son, Egon Pearson.
In the coming months, we will be looking at some of these letters, and the fascinating stories behind them, in more depth.