- Historic Sites
Sigmund Freud’s Sortie To America
The Father of Psychoanalysis came, saw, conquered—and didn’t like it much
April/may 1980 | Volume 31, Issue 3
They approached New York on the evening of the twenty-seventh. As the ship nosed into upper New York Bay, Freud turned to Jung with these words: “Won’t they get a surprise when they hear what we have to say to them!” “How ambitious you are!” Jung replied, to which Freud indignantly retorted: “Me! I’m the most humble of men, and the only man who isn’t ambitious!” Jung, unwilling to be bested, answered: “That’s a big thing—to be the only one.” On shore they were met by A. A. Brill, the naturalized American from Austria who had already begun to translate Freud’s works and had the previous year set up practice in New York as America’s first fulltime psychoanalyst. Jones arrived from Toronto two days later and the five men then spent a week sightseeing. Before it was over the rich American food, against which Freud maintained an obstinate lifelong grudge, had induced them to fast every third day. At the Metropolitan Museum of Art he studied the Greek antiquities and in Tiffany’s was unable to resist buying a Chinese jade bowl for his collection. They visited Coney Island—a “magnified Prater,” he said, comparing it with Vienna’s great park. They dined at Hammerstein’s Roof Garden and visited Columbia University. And in a Manhattan cinema Freud and Ferenczi saw their first moving pictures. On the thirtieth, Freud wrote to Hall announcing his arrival in the United States and explained that since his English was still poor he would be obliged at Worcester to “transfer the difficulty to the side of the hearers and talk in my native tongue.”
On the evening of Saturday, September fourth, Brill put the four men on the overnight steamer to Fall River, the next leg of their journey to Worcester. Here they were met by Stanley Hall and his wife, described by Jung as “plump, jolly, good-natured and extremely ugly.” The Halls’ sumptuous home gave the visitors their first hint of the lavishness that could be experienced in America. “The house,” Jung wrote to his wife, “is furnished in an incredibly amusing fashion, everything roomy and comfortable. There is a splendid studio filled with thousands of books.… Two pitch-black Negroes in dinner jackets, the extreme of grotesque solemnity, perform as servants. Carpets everywhere, all the doors open, even the bathroom door and the front door; people going in and out all over the place; all the windows extend down to the floor.…” If these wonders were not enough, there were boxes of cigars even in what were then still called the lavatories.
Freud’s first lecture was to be given on Tuesday, September 7, but until almost the last moment he had little idea of what he would talk about. On his arrival at Worcester he had felt inclined to restrict the lectures to dreams alone, but on Jones’s advice he decided to spread the net wider. Even so, the lectures were improvised on what was a remarkably adhoc basis, in which Ferenczi played an important role. “In the morning, before the time had come for my lecture to begin, we would walk together in front of the University building and I would ask him to suggest what I should talk about that day,” Freud has written. “He thereupon gave me a sketch of what, half an hour later, I improvised in my lecture. In this way he had a share in the origin of the Five Lectures .”
The first of the five successive mornings was the occasion which really mattered. “In Europe,” Freud was to write, “I felt as though I were despised; but over [in Worcester] I found myself received by the foremost men as an equal. As I stepped on to the platform … it seemed like the realization of some incredible day-dream; psycho-analysis was no longer a product of delusion, it had become a valuable part of reality.”
Lack of preparation paid dividends, for at virtually the last moment he decided to give a straightforward, relatively nontechnical account of how psychoanalysis had developed. It was not only well received in Worcester; even today, after psychoanalysis has evolved from the simple ideas of its early days into a maze of differing, and sometimes competing, beliefs and theories, the five Clark University lectures still offer an excellent outline of the subject.
Freud began with what was, in the light of his future attitude, a remarkable statement. “If it is a merit to have brought psycho-analysis into being, ” he said, “that merit is not mine. I had no share in its earliest beginnings. I was a student and working for my final examinations … when another Viennese physician, Dr. Josef Breuer, first (in 1880–82) made use of this procedure on a girl who was suffering from hysteria.” There followed an elegant account of how Breuer had dealt with Bertha Pappenheim, the young Viennese known to the psychoanalytical world under the pseudonym of “Anna O.” Next came one or two examples drawn from his own practice and then the much-quoted conclusion that “ hysterical patients suffer from reminiscences .”