Stephen Hawking (1942-2018).
Autograph letter signed ('Stephen') to Bill Cleghorn, [postmarked Cambridge, 26 April 1968].
1½ pages, 245 x 205mm, airmail letter. Provenance: offered by the recipient.
Hawking writes to a childhood friend with happy personal news, along with reports of a trip to America and an uneasy professional detente with the astronomer Fred Hoyle. He apologises for the delay in writing, explaining 'We are at the moment on holiday in Cornwall staying in a very attractive cottage owned by the National Trust at St. Anthony-in-Roseland. The Roseland refers not to the flora but to the colour of the soil'. As Bill may or may not know, 'we now have a son, Robert, aged 10 months and very attractive – at least, we think so and other people seem to agree. When he was six weeks old we took him to America where we saw John McC[lenahan] and family. He seem[s] reasonably happy but a bit homesick and proclaimed his intention of coming back to work in England a year from now. Whether he will be able to support a wife and three sons to American standards on an English salary I am not so sure'. Turning to his nascent professional career, news of a new job is evidently tinged with certain misgivings: 'Although I wrote my first paper attacking Hoyle's theory of gravity, I have now got a job at his Institute of Theoretical Astronomy. Quite how it will work out I don't know but my present work does not impinge on his so I hope to avoid a collision. Anyway, it means a considerable increase in salary'.
Stephen Hawking attended St Albans School from the age of ten, falling in with a close-knit group of bright boys whose shared interests ranged from inventing their own board games and listening to classical music to long bicyle rides in the Hertfordshire countryside. Bill Cleghorn was one of the group, along with Hawking's best friend at that time, John McClenahan; the boys spent nearly every moment together, between completing long hours of school and homework and spending time at one another's houses, and their friendships endured beyond their school days, after the group found their separate ways to universities, new jobs and their own families. In 1968, three years after achieving his doctorate, Hawking had applied to work at the Institute of Theoretical Astronomy at Cambridge, founded by the renowned Yorkshire astronomer Fred Hoyle the year before. He was awarded the post, but might yet have been justified in the sense of unease he felt about working under his new director: Hawking had gained a degree of academic notoriety at Cambridge following a public challenge of Hoyle, the man he once hoped might supervise his doctoral thesis, and his student Jayant Narlikar during a lecture in 1964.
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