Sigmund Freud’s Sortie To America


Freud’s invitation from Worcester was therefore somewhat unexpected, even though President Hall had become known as the “Darwin of the Mind.” The ambivalent nature of his character is suggested by the fact that, although a founder of the American Psychological Association, he openly described his life as “a series of fads or crazes.” Luckily for Freud, psychoanalysis had by 1909 become the latest of these. “Although I have not the honour of your personal acquaintance,” Hall wrote, “I have for many years been profoundly interested in your work, which I have studied with diligence, and also in that of your followers. Would Freud, he went on, visit them during their twenty-year celebrations to be held in July, and give from four to six lectures. “We believe that a concise statement of your own results and point of view would now be exceedingly opportune, and perhaps in some sense mark an epoch in the history of these studies in this country.’

Freud refused. The reason was that he normally worked until the end of July, and to stop sooner would mean the loss of several thousand kronen. Clark University was offering to contribute only four hundred dollars toward his travel expenses and, as he pointed out to Carl Jung of Zurich, at that time one of his most ardent followers, he was “not wealthy enough to spend five times that much to give the Americans an impetus. (That’s boasting; two-and-a-half to three times as much!)”

However, in February, 1909, Hall wrote again, telling Freud that the celebrations were being postponed until September, that the travel allowance had been increased to seven hundred and fifty dollars and that he was now able to add the promise of an honorary degree. Freud accepted the renewed offer without delay. “I must admit that this has thrilled me more than anything else that has happened in the last few years—except perhaps for the appearance of the Jahrbuch [the first Yearbook of Psychoanalysis ]—and that I have been thinking of nothing else,” he wrote to Jung. And to Karl Abraham, a psycho-analyst in Germany, he observed: “perhaps it will annoy some people in Berlin as well as in Vienna. That cannot do any harm.”

In early August Jung was also invited. Freud was delighted: as he noted to Jung, “the invitation is the main thing … the audience is now at our mercy, under obligation to applaud whatever we bring them.”

Freud was well aware of the importance of his first series of lectures to an English-speaking audience and was determined to guard, as far as possible, against any mishaps. Principally for this reason, it appears, he proposed that Sandor Ferenczi, a colleague from Budapest, should accompany Jung and himself. Ferenczi agreed. He was to give Freud invaluable support.

It was eventually arranged that the three men should sail from Bremen on August 21, and on August 20 Freud traveled to the north German port, where Jung and Ferenczi were awaiting him. Before they left the following day on the George Washington there was a strange incident for which various explanations have been given. Freud was host at a luncheon party for his two colleagues, and during the meal, conversation turned to the mummified corpses of prehistoric man still being found in North Germany. Jung was an expert on the subject, and continued to expound on it until Freud interjected with: “Why do you keep talking about these corpses? You are wishing my death. Jung replied: My dear Professor, can’t you stop such funny interpretations.

Freud then fainted. He appears to have been brought round without the slightest fuss, and it is a little difficult to justify the monument of exegesis which was later built on the incident.

“Afterwards, Jung subsequently wrote, “he said to me that he was convinced that all this chatter about corpses meant I had death-wishes towards him. I was more than surprised by this interpretation. I was alarmed by the intensity of his fantasies—so strong that, obviously, they could cause him to faint. But Freud had at the start of the meal persuaded Jung to renounce his teetotalism for a glass of wine, and the fainting fit had been interpreted as a psychic penalty for this minor triumph. However, Freud was keyed-up at the prospect of the journey and he had a congenital dislike of dissection. The explanation could well be that the man who, according to his eldest sister, could not bear the sight of blood simply reacted with distaste to details about mummified corpses.

On the George Washington the three travelers whiled away the eight-day crossing by analyzing each others dreams. Freud’s, according to the account which Jung gave to Ernest Jones soon afterward, seemed to be mostly concerned with cares for the future of his family and of his work. Later, however, Jung produced a more dramatic account: Freud had a dream—I would not think it right to air the problem it involved. I interpreted it as best I could, but added that a great deal more could be said about it if he would supply me with some additional details from his private life. Freud’s response to these words was a curious look—a look of the utmost suspicion. Then he said: ‘But I cannot risk my authority!’ At that moment he lost it altogether. That sentence burned itself into my memory; and in it the end of our relationship was already foreshadowed. Freud was placing personal authority above truth.…”