“Even though they say that the work of a single person will not have much of an impact in the big picture, it does not diminish the passion in which we pursue our interests, and that is a good thing. Although personal illusions may bring warmth and joy into one’s life when young, they don’t last a lifetime. Life would be bleak if the work and the passion for discovery did not exist.“
AN EXTRAORDINARY LETTER BY EINSTEIN TO HIS SON OFFERING LIFE ADVICE AND DISCUSSING FREUD, SHAKESPEARE, AND SCHILLER.
Addressed to his son Eduard “Tetel” Einstein and signed “Papa”, the letter, written in ink on both sides of one sheet, reads in full (translated from the original German):
I hope by now you’ve received Freud’s lectures from Vienna. I’ve read most of them myself in the past. They really made me admire the Author, but they didn’t convince me that his theories were correct.
I must admit however that, based on my personal experiences, my conviction about those theories is weakening -- I feel now that he was onto something, at least in regards to the main theses.
I would have written to you sooner, but work is keeping me very busy. Even though they say that the work of a single person will not have much of an impact in the big picture, it does not diminish the passion in which we pursue our interests, and that is a good thing.
Although personal illusions may bring warmth and joy into one’s life when young, they don’t last a lifetime. Life would be bleak if the work and the passion for discovery did not exist.
In my free time I am currently reading Schiller’s poems, which I have neglected since my youth. They feel a bit pompous, but at the same time they are enthralling in their choice of words and grammar. I am really happy that I picked them up again.
I would have liked to send you another book on the top of the Freud, but didn’t know which one to send -- especially because I don’t get a lot of German writings anymore.
When I have some extra free time, after finishing Schiller, I really want to start reading Shakespeare, everything from him I can get my hands on. If you like to read it too, perhaps we could discuss it at some later time?
Albert is a real delight -- he has been traveling up and down the country for the past 6 weeks and will have seen and experienced many interesting things. I really hope he has followed my advice and kept a journal, but I am not holding high hopes. When it comes to talking and writing he seems to be chronically constipated.
With my warmest regards,
Einstein’s life advice, underscoring one of his core beliefs:
Einstein often stated that his main goal in life was the quest for truth, no matter how difficult and painstaking the quest. He advises Eduard in this letter that it is the pursuit and the work in attaining the goal that brings satisfaction and sustains one throughout life, even if “the work of a single person will not have much of an impact in the big picture”. This, he notes, is critical to understand after the illusions of youth have succumbed to reality.
Einstein, Eduard, and Freud:
Eduard Einstein (nicknamed "Tete" or "Tetel"), born in 1910, was the second son of Albert and his first wife Mileva. From an early age, he became enamored with the teachings of Freud, even hanging a picture of famous psychiatrist on his bedroom wall. By the age of twenty he was diagnosed with schizophrenia and consequently was institutionalized several times throughout his life.
Einstein's views of Freud's teachings were somewhat more nuanced than those of his son. Initially, Einstein did not show much interest in Freud's theories and after their first meeting in 1927, Freud famously remarked “He understands as much about psychology as I do about physics."
Over the years, however, Einstein began studying Freud's works. After corresponding with Freud somewhat regularly throughout the 1930s and even collaborating with him on a project sponsored by the League of Nations ("Why War?", 1932), Einstein began to move from a deep skepticism to - as indicated in this letter - a growing acceptance.
By 1936 - just before this letter was written - Einstein sent birthday greetings to Freud, acknowledging:
“Until recently I could only apprehend the speculative power of your train of thought, together with its enormous influence on the Weltanschauung of the present era, without being in a position to form a definite opinion about the amount of truth it contains. Not long ago, however, I had the opportunity of hearing about a few instances, not very important in themselves, which in my judgment exclude any other interpretation than that provided by the theory of repression. I was delighted to come across them, since it is always delightful when a great and beautiful conception proves to be consonant with reality.”
In this letter to Eduard, Einstein admits to Eduard that he now believes Freud “was onto something, at least in regards to the main theses.”
Einstein, Shakespeare, Schiller:
Einstein’s fondness for music is well-known, but not as much has been recorded about his literary tastes. It is not surprising (and has been previously documented) that Einstein had a fondness for the great German poet Schiller, but we can find no other references to Shakespeare by Einstein in any other letters or manuscripts.
His words to Eduard, “I really want to start reading Shakespeare, everything from him I can get my hands on” imply that Einstein has recently “discovered” Shakespeare and is excited at the discovery.
Note: Although the letter is not dated, we can assume that it was written late (November - December) in 1937, when Einstein’s son Albert was visiting the United States (a trip he refers to in the letter).
[Princeton]: [November - December], 1937. One 8.5x11 inch leaf, written on both sides. In German. Usual folds, otherwise fine.
A LONG, REMARKABLE, AND REVEALING LETTER UNITING THE INTELLECTUAL GIANTS EINSTEIN, FREUD, AND SHAKESPEARE, AND SHARING ONE OF HIS CORE BELIEFS WITH HIS SON.
Price: $60,000 .