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One of Einstein’s Best Metaphysical Letters - Counseling His Son on the Meaning of Life and Youth and the Relative Value of Intellectual Creations
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“All my life I have troubled myself with problems and am always – as on the first day – inspired by the fact that cognition in the scientific and artistic sense is the best thing we possess… If one hears the angels singing a couple of times during one’s life, one can give the world something and one is a particularly fortunate and blessed individual.”

ALBERT EINSTEIN. Autograph Letter Signed (“Papa”), in German, to his son Eduard (“Tete” for “petit”). [December 27, 1932]. 2 pp, 8½ x 11 in.

Inventory #23789       Price: $48,000

Complete Translation

Dear Tete,

When I read your letters I am very much reminded of my youth. In one’s thoughts, one tends to set oneself against the world. One compares one’s own strengths with everything else, one alternates between despondency and self-assurance.  One has the feeling that life is eternal and that everything one does and thinks is so important. Yes, one feels as if one were the first and only fellow who has gone through all this. Yet this heroism is rather petty and can only be corrected by humor and by one’s somehow turning with the social machine.  

However, I cannot agree with what you say about the worthlessness of intellectual achievements. It is, of course, an irrefutable standpoint if you reject values in general – consistent with pessimism or Nihilism. But if you want to attach a value to society and every living thing in general, and are happy about the fact that there is consciousness, then you can’t get around having to recognize the highest level of consciousness as the highest ideal. Eudaimonism [a moral philosophy that defines right action as that which leads to the “well-being” of the individual] would be a bleak herd-mentality ideal. We don’t want creatures to suffer unnecessarily, but that alone is not a goal that can make life worth living. Because the balance between happiness and pain remains rather negative, and the goal might rather be achieved most perfectly by destroying life. All my life I have troubled myself with problems and am always – as on the first day – inspired by the fact that cognition in the scientific and artistic sense is the best thing we possess. My love of these things has never diminished and will stay with me till I breathe my last. You were also born for this and your words to the contrary only derive from the fear of not being able to achieve anything worthwhile. Dear Tetel, therefore I somehow take pity on you. But there is an easy solution. One becomes a cog in the large machinery so that no one can demand anything else from one. One is a thinking and feeling creature privately and for one’s own pleasure. If one hears the angels singing a couple of times during one’s life, one can give the world something and one is a particularly fortunate and blessed individual. Yet if this is not the case, one is nevertheless a small particle of the soul of one's generation and that is also beautiful.

Think about this carefully, so that you don’t fall victim to the devil of ambition and vanity. And keep in mind: not the desire for the achievement but love of the things themselves can lead to something worthwhile.

Be that as it may, you bring me great joy because you’re not going through life mindlessly but rather seeing and thinking. I would like to be with you again soon. Couldn’t you come here during your Easter holidays? I don’t dare to ask you to come during Christmas so that Mama will not be sad and left all on her own. Tell her that I’m embarrassed that I have not yet fulfilled her requests (Kactus, Biske was also not here unfortunately, and I don’t know his address anymore either). But I will improve myself if God will help. I have a great deal to do. I’ve recently plunged into a few interesting technical matters when it comes to the scientific. It’s almost like a sport.

Write me again soon.

                                                                        Yours, Papa.

I’m enclosing a note to Albert. All the best to Mama.

Historical Background

Albert Einstein wrote this letter two months after Eduard Einstein’s first admission to the Burghölzli mental institution, where Eduard was treated for schizophrenia. Albert wrote during his voyage to the United States, from which he had received a visa on December 6, 1932. Einstein left Europe on December 14 and arrived in Los Angeles on January 9, 1933. He remained in Pasadena until early March 1933, when he decided to return to Europe, despite warnings for his safety after Adolph Hitler came to power on January 30, 1933.

Eduard wrote to one of his mother’s mathematics pupils from the Burghölzli, “Sometimes my head aches for hours on end like an inflamed tooth. You must not think that I am going through all this ordeal to get wisdom. It would be utterly silly to want to become wise by force. I wish for nothing more than to be passably contented.”[1]

Aboard the S.S. Belgenland on March 28, 1933, just before docking at Antwerp, Albert wrote to his son Eduard, “I am glad to hear that you are better and particularly that you are enjoying art again and that you are playing Mozart.... For the time being, I will not be returning to Germany, perhaps never again. I think of you very often: maybe I can visit you in person soon; I haven't seen you for a long time now.”[2] A few days later, Albert renounced his German citizenship. In May 1933, Albert visited Eduard at Burghölzli in Zurich. Albert played his violin for his son but received no response at all.It was the last time they saw each other.

Eduard Einstein (1910 – 1965) was born in Zürich, Switzerland to Albert and Mileva Marić Einstein. In 1914, his parents separated, and his mother returned to Zürich with Eduard and older brother Hans Albert, who were both deeply affected. Eduard was interested in music, art, and poetry. Unlike his father, Eduard was a good student. He had started to study medicine and psychiatry, but in 1930, was diagnosed with schizophrenia. He was first institutionalized in 1932; it is not clear if his treatment (particularly electroconvulsive therapy) did more good than harm.  Albert fondly referred to Eduard as “Tete” (for petit), and they corresponded regularly but never saw each other after a heart-breaking final visit in 1933. Marić and Eduard’s Swiss citizenship undoubtedly saved Eduard from Aktion T4, the Nazi euthanasia program, and perhaps both of them from the Holocaust. His mother cared for Eduard until her death in 1948, and Eduard thereafter lived mostly at a psychiatric clinic in Zurich, where he died from a stroke in 1965.

Albert Einstein (1879-1955) was born in the Kingdom of Wurttemberg in the German Empire to non-observant Ashkenazi Jewish parents. In 1894, the Einstein family moved to Italy. Einstein went to Switzerland to finish his secondary schooling, and graduated from the Swiss Federal Polytechnic in Zürich in 1900. In 1903, he married Mileva Marić (1875-1948), with whom he had two sons. In 1919, they divorced and he married his cousin Elsa Löwenthal. In 1905, he received a Ph.D. from the University of Zürich. From 1908 to 1932, he taught at a series of universities in Switzerland, the Austrian Empire, and the German Empire. As a theoretical physicist, he published ground-breaking papers as early as 1905 and developed the theory of relativity including the mass–energy equivalence formula, E = mc2. In 1922, he received the Nobel Prize in Physics for the discovery of the photoelectric effect. In January 1933, when Adolph Hitler came to power, Einstein was visiting the United States and remained here, becoming a citizen in 1940. A year earlier, he signed a letter to President Franklin D. Roosevelt warning that Germany could develop a nuclear bomb, and urging the U.S. to become involved in uranium research, thus beginning the “Manhattan project.” Though he focused on the need to defeat Hitler during the war, afterwards he became known for efforts to further world peace. At the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, N.J., from 1933 until his death in 1955, he worked unsuccessfully to develop a unified field theory and to refute the accepted interpretation of quantum physics. Considered the father of modern physics and one of the most prolific intellects of history, Einstein published more than 300 scientific papers and over 150 non-scientific works.

Published in The Einstein Scrapbook, Ze’ev Rosenkranz, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998 & 2002.

Provenance

Christie’s. The Einstein Family Correspondence including the Albert Einstein- Mileva Maric Love Letters. Lot 73. Profiles in History Historical Auction 75, June 11, 2015, lot 39.


[1] Roger Highfield and Paul Carter, The Private Lives of Albert Einstein (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1993), 238.

[2] Albert Einstein to Eduard Einstein, March 28, 1933, Shapell Manuscript Collection.


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