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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
All the lectures had been public and Freud had attracted a varied bag of listeners. Among unexpected visitors was the anarchist Emma Goldman. She had attended Freud’s lectures in Vienna a decade earlier and, having a chance business connection in Worcester, took the opportunity to hear him once again. On the psychiatrists and other potential converts, he had made a considerable impression, and after the Worcester meeting Putman appears to have abandoned most of his doubts.
There was also William James, who explained to the psychologist Théodore Flournoy that he had gone to Worcester “for one day inorder to see what Freud was like.” He was already fatally ill, and greatly impressed Freud during a walk they took together. “I shall never forget one little scene.… ” Freud wrote. “He stopped suddenly, handed me a bag he was carrying and asked me to walk on, saying that he would catch me up as soon as he had got through an attack of angina pectoris which was just coming on. He died of that disease a year later; and I have always wished that I might be as fearless as he was in the face of approaching death.”
There is some doubt about James’s real feelings at Worcester. Ernest Jones has stated that “with his arm around my shoulder” James left the university with a message of encouragement, saying: “The future of psychology belongs to your work.” James himself implied that his views were more qualified. ”I strongly suspect Freud, with his dream theory, of being a regular hallucine ,” he wrote a few days later. “But I hope that he and his disciples will push it to its limits as undoubtedly it covers some facts, and will add to our understanding of ‘functional’ psychology, which is the real psychology.” Shortly afterward he wrote to Flournoy. “I hope,” he said, “that Freud and his pupils will push their ideas to their utmost limits, so that we may learn what they are. They can’t fail to throw light on human nature; but I confess that he ig made on me personally the impression of a man obsessed with fixed ideas. I can make fH nothing in my own case with his dream theories, and obviously ‘symbolism’ is a most dangerous method.”
Newspaper coverage of Freud’s lectures was also mixed. The Worcester Telegram ambiguously reported that he “developed his method of psychic analysis, which is described as a sort of third degree administered with certain appliances and in certain ways, in which he finds out the general direction in which the cause of sickness is sought.”
The most influential reports were made by the Boston Transcript , which noted that Dr. Franz Boas, the celebrated anthropologist, had given his place to Freud for the latter’s first morning lecture and that Boas and his friends were “enthusiastic over the sacrifice.” On subsequent days the paper gave reasonably informed summaries of the lectures and maintained interest by publishing on September 11 a lengthy interview with Freud by Adelbert Albrecht, a reporter who claimed to have had a long acquaintance with Freud’s writings and who was certainly an admirer.
“One sees at a glance that he is a man of great refinement, of intellect and of many-sided education,” Albrecht wrote. “His sharp, yet kind, clear eyes suggest at once the doctor. His high forehead with the large bumps of observation and his beautiful, energetic hands are very striking. He speaks clearly, weighing his words carefully, but unfortunately never of himself.” He went on to report Freud’s statements accurately, and the result was the best newspaperdescription of psychoanalysis to appear for some years, certainly in the United States and possibly anywhere in the world. Other coverage was spotty. The Boston Daily Advertiser reported that Dr. Ed. Freud (sic) had given five lectures on “the psychology of everyday life.” The Boston Medical and Surgical Journal complimented I” Freud on his clarity of exposition and noted that he “certainly gave his hearers much food for thought, however they might differ from him in details of interpretation.”
The visitors were not due to sail for Europe until the twenty-first and during the week left to them visited Niagara Falls and James Putnam’s camp in the Adirondacks. Before leaving Vienna, Freud had spoken of his ambition to see the Falls, and the spectacle fully came up to expectations. There was only one awkward incident. In the Cave of the Winds, where it is possible to step up to the spray-drenched railing and see the frightening splendor of the rushing water from a dramatic angle, the guide held other visitors back as Freud came forward. “Let the old fellow go first,” he said. Freud, aged fifty-three, was not amused. Nevertheless, he remained in holiday mood, sending the obligatory tourist postcard to his daughter Sophie from the American side of the Falls, then crossing over into Canada where the party sent a “Kindest Regards” card to Mrs. A. A. Brill, who had entertained them in New York, signed by “Abe, Freud, Ferenczi and Jung.”