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April 10, 1936

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

Autograph Letter Signed
2 pages
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.”