Dan Pedoe on W V D Hodge

Dan Pedoe is, perhaps, best known today as the co-author of the famous three volume work Methods of algebraic geometry. In his paper 'In love with geometry', The College Mathematics Journal 29 (3) (1998), 170-188, Pedoe writes about Hodge:

I was able to visit Cambridge [in the summer of 1941], where I called on Hodge. He had very few pupils and felt restless, whereas I was teaching Air Force cadets in Southampton and thus contributing to the war effort. But in fact I was not fully occupied, so I was delighted when he suggested that we collaborate on a book. He made it plain that I would do most of the writing. C V Durell, the senior mathematics master at Winchester, had already asked me to collaborate with him on a more elementary book, but I felt that Durell would understand my preferring to work with Hodge.

So it all began. ... I worked with Hodge for about twelve years, during which Methods grew to become three volumes, instead of the one volume Hodge had first envisioned. Although Hodge was the senior partner in this enterprise, I had a decisive influence at the very start. ... Seeing Methods into print was a formidable task, but the Cambridge University Press was very helpful. There was a whole year, 1947, when I was in Cambridge with a Leverhulme Fellowship and Hodge was away visiting in America. It was a bitter winter in England, and fuel supplies ran out for a time. Keeping my hands warm enough to write legibly was not easy. It is a numbing thought that at one time the whole of volumes one and two existed only in my handwriting!

While volume two was being printed, Hodge contacted me to say that he had already written volume three himself. Would I object if it were published under just his own name? I did not object, but he soon found that he could not cope and wrote to invite me back into the fold. He had hoped to rely on his brother-in-law T A A Broadbent, a fine editor of the Mathematical Gazette who is effusively thanked in the preface to each volume. However, checking and rewriting part of volume three and seeing it through the press was too taxing for him. I was glad to do it, of course. Hodge was a fine geometer, and he told me that reading Baker's six-volume Principles of Geometry had given him a great love for geometry.

... One of Hodge's endearing features was his obvious pleasure upon hearing told he had made a mistake. When Weyl wrote a paper correcting part of Hodge's theory of harmonic integrals, Hodge remarked that it was fine mathematicians like Weyl who made the Institute for Advanced Study famous.

... Hodge had no Ph.D., which puzzled American mathematicians. It has been said that the Ph.D. (Cantab.) was invented to give Americans something to take back to America; after all, the real Cambridge doctorate was the Sc.D. One day as I awaited Hodge in his Pembroke study, I was surprised to see him arrive looking rather excited. It had been suggested that he apply for an Sc.D., and he wanted me to certify what he had done for our book! In fact, he soon discovered that my support was not necessary, as the Sc.D. could be awarded for research already published. Of course, it was.

One fine morning Hodge and I were inside the grounds of Pembroke College when we met J A Todd, an excellent geometer, the author of a fine textbook on projective geometry, a University lecturer - and a pipe smoker who spent more time striking matches than actually smoking. As we stood talking, Todd struck match after match and dropped them on the ground at Hodge's feet. Hodge, as the Acting Bursar, was responsible for the proper maintenance of the grounds of Pembroke, so as Todd dropped each match, Hodge bent down to pick it up. Todd, who wore eyeglasses with strong lenses, was completely unaware of what was going on. The spectacle of the very thin Todd unconsciously dropping matches, and the rotund Hodge bending down every few seconds - while becoming more and more exasperated - is one I shall never forget.

Hodge became Master of Pembroke and President of the Royal Society. He was very shrewd and usually tactful, but had definite ideas on certain matters. He thought, for example, that a mathematical paper should be just that, with no embellishment. When Patrick Du Val, a contemporary of Donald Coxeter, a good geometer, and a lover of the arts, submitted a paper to the Cambridge Philosophical Society for publication, with a quotation from Dante following its title, Hodge suggested that this was not "appropriate." He was badly flustered when a furious Du Val withdrew the paper.

Last Updated July 2015