April 10, 1936

Einstein on Exile in Princeton, His Life as a Scientist, and Freud’s Theses

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At fifty-seven, in exile, and writing to his schizophrenic son, Einstein is somehow resolute and optimistic. Here he discusses life in Princeton rather than Germany or Switzerland; the loss of an old friend; and the essential truth of Freud’s work which, he says, he has never applied to his own life…
 
He sits in his study – freezing: one stops heating, he says, when spring arrives – busy at work “on the same problems, which are so difficult, that one is surprised at one's own courage.” When he runs out of steam, he looks at the “imitation English university” that is Princeton. People here only have respect for England, he opines: “If you say you are from Switzerland, they think that is funny, because they think there is only cheese and chocolate there.” He likes to read the Swiss papers but has no time for books. “Science devours one entirely, especially when the elasticity of youth is gone. In the end your own brain leads you around by the nose.” As for news from Germany, he hardly hears anything directly. “Whatever was familiar to me there is either dead or scattered all over the world.” What Einstein has heard, however, is that his old friend, Professor Stern, died. “I think he did not understand much about human nature, which is why he was always concerned with the whole of mankind,” he comments. “In doing so he was right, because mankind deceives one only impersonally.”
 
Einstein then remarks – apropos, perhaps, to friend Stern’s misunderstanding of human nature – that Freud has just turned eighty. He had met Freud almost ten years before, and they had chatted amicably about politics. Einstein never seemed very interested in psychoanalysis, or impressed by its precepts. His son Tete was, however, and that may explain his generosity in admitting here that Freud’s “main theses are correct” and that Tete saw this much clearer, and sooner, than himself.  “The cause of this is probably that my own private life was excluded for so long and so thoroughly from my thoughts (not only repressed but also forgotten),” he concludes, “so that I have no living material at hand to work with.”

Autograph Letter Signed (“Papa”), in German, 2 pages, quarto, recto and verso, no place [Princeton], April 10, 1936. To his son, “Tete.”

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Transcript

10. IV. 36

Dear Tetel!

Once again much time has passed since I last wrote to you. Meanwhile I was pleased to receive a report in praise of Albert's work. A fine fellow. I am sitting here in my study, covered with a blanket, but still freezing, because one stops heating when spring arrives. Nevertheless, I quite like it here because one can live at one's own pace. I only let myself be pestered by mail. Apart from that I am continuing to work with the same young man on the same problems, which are so difficult, that one is surprised at one's own courage. When I run out of steam, I look outside through a big window and see a lawn with trees, a respectable piece of sky and a huge tower in the distance which decorates a university building in imitation of an English university. Here, in general, people only have respect for England. If you say you are from Switzerland, they think that is funny, because they think there is only cheese and chocolate there.

A few days ago I received the news of the death of my dear old friend Prof. Stern. He was a good and fine person, like few others. I think he did not understand much about human nature, which is why he was always concerned with the whole of mankind. In doing so he was right, because mankind deceives one only impersonally.

I often read the Basler Nationalzeitung ((Basle National Newspaper), sometimes also Zurich's newspaper. Miss Dukas' brother sends them to her. On the other hand, I rarely get around to reading books. Science devours one entirely, especially when the elasticity of youth is gone. In the end your own brain leads you around by the nose. But one is all the more independent of one's fellow men. I hardly hear anything from Germany directly; for whatever was familiar to me there is either dead or scattered all over the world. But Prof. Pauli is here from Zurich, a very clever young physicist, to whom I might seem like a kind of fossil. He has the same position at the [Zurich] technical college which I had 23 years ago, when you were born in the best of all worlds. 

Freud will soon turn 80. I have come to realize that his main theses are correct. I was informed of some simple cases by very trustworthy people, the interpretation of which seems indubitable. In this matter you saw things much clearer than I did at a much earlier stage. The cause of this is probably that my own private life was excluded for so long and so thoroughly from my thoughts (not only repressed but also forgotten) so that I have no living material at hand to work with.

With affection, your

PAPA