A Letter from Vito Volterra, 1912

As I was looking through the Sharp Papers for yesterday’s post I came across something wonderful in a file labeled “Vito Volterra to WBS 1912.” What possible interaction could there be between a Texas oil executive and the great Italian mathematician, you say? (Click on that link for a pretty nice story of Volterra’s very eventful life.) In all honesty, I had a pretty good idea. Volterra had visited Houston in October of 1912 to attend and speak at the Formal Opening of the Rice Institute so it must have been somehow related to that. And indeed, when I opened the file the first of three pieces of paper in it was clearly a thank you note to Walter Sharp for his kindness during Volterra’s time at that event. Unfortunately and a bit surprisingly it was written in French, which I read badly, and in a bad hand on top of it:


But–gloriously–the very next piece of paper was an English translation:


“Huh,” I said to myself, “that looks like Griffith Evans’s handwriting.”

Then I turned over the last piece of paper and found this:


Walter Sharp seems to have been a fine and generous man. Sadly, he would be dead five weeks after this letter was sent.

Bonus: I was gently scolded for walking here. It made my day.


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4 Responses to A Letter from Vito Volterra, 1912

  1. Richard Schafer says:

    Wonderful letter. But where was the Bristol Hotel?

  2. Bill Harris says:

    “… and in a bad hand on top of it.” Mid-twentieth century and earlier German handwriting (https://familysearch.org/wiki/en/Germany_Handwriting) is different enough from American to be almost illegible to me unless I review my old notes. A quick search didn’t turn up anything better than https://a-french-education.blogspot.com/2011/03/french-primer-penmanship-by-pb-lecron.html for French, but that’s current, and I imagine that it has evolved since 1912. So perhaps his is very nicely done.

    It can be handy to use German handwriting for note-taking in meetings when you don’t want the notes to be easily read by others.

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