• U.S.

Medicine: The Great Psychiatrist

11 minute read

Sigmund Freud once complained that many biographers idealize their subjects and thus “forgo the opportunity of penetrating into the most fascinating secrets of human nature.” His own biographer need have no guilt feelings on this score. British Psychoanalyst Ernest Jones, the only loyal survivor of Freud’s original disciples, reveres the Master of Psychoanalysis ; yet he is able to probe for many of the most fascinating secrets of Freud’s nature. The first volume of Jones’s projected three-volume biography (TIME, Oct. 19, 1953) took the subject through his youth—including such matters as breast-feeding and sibling rivalry. The present volume-continues Freud’s fascinating case history, taking him up to the age of 63. It shows Freud moving in on the new century whose soul he was to haunt and, in large measure, to dominate.

Sex in the Cradle. Says Biographer Jones flatly: “In 1901 Freud, at the age of 45, had attained complete maturity a consummation of development that few people really achieve.” Jones credits this victory over neurotic disturbances, including inferiority feelings, to the “imperishable feat” of the four-year self-analysis that Freud began in 1897.

Less devout Freudian psychologists may question whether Freud’s maturity was as complete as Jones describes—and they can do so on the basis of Psychiatrist Jones’s own evidence. There is no denying that Freud needed all the maturity he could muster in the first years of the 20th century. After years of obscurity, he became a world figure, denounced from pulpit and scientific platform alike as a menace to morality, a threat to religion and even to civilization itself.

Freud had already published his masterpiece, The Interpretation of Dreams. In 1905 came a slim, paper-covered booklet, Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality. In its most startling section, Freud argued that the infant is capable of erotic sensations from the beginning of life. It took more than four years to sell 1,000 copies; after a dozen years and three editions’ Freud’s monetary reward was 262 kronen ($53.08). “This publication,” says Jones, “was felt to be a calumny on the innocence of the nursery.”

In the same year Freud published The Case of Dora, the partial analysis of a girl of 18. She had the misfortune to be in love with both her father and his mistress—according to Freud—although conventional psychiatrists of the day would have dismissed her troubles simply as the result of “depression.”

For Doctors or Policemen? A psychiatrist named Walther Spielmeyer denounced the use of psychoanalysis on Dora as “mental masturbation.” Jones himself reports: “I was forced to resign a neurological appointment in London for making inquiries into the sexual life of patients.” By 1910 the mere mention of Freud’s theories was enough to start the chairman of a Hamburg congress. Herr Professor Wilhelm Weygandt. banging his fist and shouting: “This is not a topic for discussion at a scientific meeting; it is a matter for the police.”

But Freud now no longer stood alone. As early as 1902, he had asked his first supporters to meet in the little waiting room of his apartment each week. The “Psychological Wednesday Society” had four charter members besides Freud-Alfred Adler, Max Kahane. Rudolf Reitler (the second man in history to perform a psychoanalysis), Wilhelm Stekel. In 1906 Freud learned with joy that the famed Burghëlzli Clinic of Zurich University had taken up his methods at the instance of Carl Gustav Jung (TIME, Feb. 14). Freud “soon decided that Jung was to be his successor, and at times called him his ‘son and heir’ …”

American Mistake. In 1909 Freud was one of several notables invited to attend the 20th-anniversary celebration of Clark University in Worcester, Mass. Freud was hostile from the start. He noted that the world’s finest collection of Cyprian antiquities was in New York City. He wanted to see that and Niagara, he said, and nothing more. Freud spent his first days in the New World tramping around museum collections rifled from the Old. He visited Coney Island, dined at Hammerstein’s Roof Garden, and was “quietly amused” by his first movie. Freud called America “a gigantic mistake,” and wrote pettishly that “tobacco … is the only excuse I know for Columbus’ misdeed.”

Analyst Jones never manages to explain fully Freud’s peculiar hostility toward the U.S. He lists trivia, such as 53-year-old Freud’s oversensitiveness (surely immature) when a guide in Niagara’s Cave of the Winds called: “Let the old fellow go first.” And he notes that Freud unfairly blamed rich U.S. food for intestinal trouble that actually antedated his visit by several years, and was probably a psychosomatic remnant of his earlier neurosis. “I often said to myself,” Freud once wrote, “that whoever is not master of his Konrad should not set out on travels.” There is no doubt that Freud suffered while in the U.S. from both chronic appendicitis and prostatic discomfort. In connection with his prostatitis, which necessitated frequent urinating, he complained: “They escort you along miles of corridors, and ultimately you are taken to the very basement, where a marble palace awaits you—only just in time.”

The Apostates. The Freudian school soon broke out in a rash of passionate factionalism equaled in intensity perhaps only by Marxism’s chronic dissensions. Just as Karl Marx left his carbuncular anger to his heirs, so Freud’s brilliant but obstinate, vain and hypersensitive character seems to have shaped the psychoanalytic movement. There were squabbles, rivalries, accusations. In 1910 began a series of famed apostasies of disciples who refused to accept Freud’s theories unconditionally. First Adler deserted, then Stekel, and finally “Crown Prince” Carl Gustav Jung himself. Biographer Jones suggests that the dissidents were those who still felt “obliged to perpetuate the rebelliousness of childhood.”

More revealing is Jones’s account of Freud’s self-analysis of his two famed fainting spells, which occurred when he bested Jung in relatively minor arguments. “Freud,” says Jones, “expressed the opinion that all his attacks could be traced to the effect on him of his young brother’s death when he [Sigmund] was a year and seven months old. It would therefore seem that Freud was himself a mild case of the type he described as ‘those who are wrecked by success,’ in this case the success of defeating an opponent—the earliest example of which was his successful death-wish against his little brother Julius.” That is going some, even for such an “imperishable feat” as Freud’s self-analysis.

Where There Is Smoke. Throughout World War I Freud hoped for a German victory (his three sons were in Austrian service), but felt guilty about doing so. In bland disregard of censorship laws, he corresponded with Dr. Jones in England. He complained about the fall in the value of money, the scarcity of food and especially cigars. Jones thinks that, with Freud, smoking was not merely a habit but an addiction—he smoked 20 cigars a day, was literally ill without them. But Jones offers no analysis of this extraordinary dependence. A very common Freudian interpretation: cigars and cigarettes are “nipple substitutes,” and reliance on them is a sign of fixation at the oral (most infantile) level of development.

Aside from smoking, Freud’s one great self-indulgence was travel. He so hated Vienna that he would not even take a trolley to its waltzy woods. He would spend part of his summer vacation with his growing family—three sons, three daughters.-Then he would leave his wife behind and push on with a companion—sometimes a brother, often his sister-in-law Minna Bernays—for some energetic touring.

Freud had a passion for mushrooms. “On an expedition for the purpose, he would often leave the children and . . . then creep silently up to it and suddenly pounce to capture the fungus with his hat as if it were a bird or butterfly.” Unfortunately, Analyst Jones does not reveal the unconscious symbolism either of this hunting technique or of the underlying love of mushrooms, though, of course, they grow best in musty, dank recesses —like neuroses.

Mother Rome. As much as Freud detested Vienna he admired and adored Rome. Yet for half his life he worshiped it from afar. Instead of going to Rome, he dreamed of it. But “some mysterious taboo” held him back: in years of extensive travels, he got little closer to Rome than Trasimeno. 85 miles away. That was as close as Hannibal ever got —an important point to Freud, who idolized the Carthaginian.

Dr. Jones scoffs at the many explanations, nearly all postulating an unconscious urge to join the Church of Rome, which have been offered for Freud’s strange behavior. In Jones’s view, the answer lies in Freud’s Oedipus feelings. Rome was “the Mother of Cities.” At first he could not excel his father-image, Hannibal. Rome’s enemy. So, says Jones, it was only after years of self-analysis “that Freud at last conquered [his] resistance and triumphantly entered Rome.” In other words, he shouldered his father aside and possessed his Mother of Cities.

No one seeing Freud and his brother Alexander get off the train in Rome would have suspected that anything of this sort was happening. Freud behaved much like any other tourist. But in no time he was up against yet another father-figure —Michelangelo’s famed statue of Moses in the Church of San Pietro in Vincoli. Freud “used to flinch at the angry gaze as if he were one of the disobedient mob . . . ‘But later, Freud promoted himself and identified himself with Moses. Thus he was able, writing in 1914 after the refections of Adler, Stekel and Jung, to put a new psychoanalytic interpretation on the 400-year-old statue. It did not he held, show Moses freshly descended from the Mount and about to chastise the Israelites for dancing about their golden calf. Rather, Freud read it as showing Moses deciding not to hasten after the mob lest he lose the Tablets of the Law This he called “the highest mental achievement . . . struggling successfully against an inward passion for the sake of a cause.” Freud was often plagued by doubt about the value of his work, but when he remembered how tolerant he had been of apostates to his own creed, he could feel like Moses.

Man’s Fate. The Jones biography shows again that Freud was essentially a Dessimist about mankind. “I don’t rack my brains much about the problem of good and evil,” he once wrote, “but on (he whole I have not found much of the good’ in people …”

What, in the dark recesses of this personality, was the origin of Freud’s genius?

Dr. Jones wastes no time on anything so dubious as sublimated sexual energy, although he notes in a well-bred British way: “The more passionate side of married life subsided with him earlier than it does with many men.” Neither does the analyst get much help from the periods of Freud’s greatest creativity. These are marked by a banal anal factor. His productivity, the great man once wrote probably had much to do with the “enormous improvement” in the activity of his Konrad.

Seeking the wellspring of genius, Analyst Jones goes underground. The search for truth, he believes, was “the deepest and strongest driving force” in Freud’s Me. What truth? Essentially the same thing as “the child’s desire to know . the meaning of birth and what has brought it about.” In Freud’s early childhood there must have been a man who knew the secrets. “Well, there was his half brother Philipp [20 years his senior] whom he suspected of being his mother’s mate . . .” Jones guesses that this half brother may have given young Sigmund some joking version of the facts of life that may have hurt the child. This relatively trivial explanation of what Jones justly calls a noble striving is typical of a danger that psychoanalysis often faces the danger of keeping its eyes not on the heights but on the mushrooms. But Analyst Jones is also conscious of the heights when he concludes :

“It would be a curious trick of fate if this little man [Freud’s half brother]—he is said to have ended up as a peddler —had through his mere existence proved to have fortuitously struck the spark that lit the future Freud’s determination to trust himself alone, to resist the impulse to believe in others more than in himself, and in that way to make imperishable the name of Freud.”

The Life and Work of Sigmund Freud Vol II 1901-19 (512 pp.); Basic Books; $6.75. Freud’s term for bowels. Oliver, now a Philadelphia engineer; Ernst, an architect, Martin, a sometime lawyer, Anna, a psychoanalyst, and Mathilde, a housewife, all living in London; Sophie died in Germany after World War I.

More Must-Reads from TIME

Contact us at letters@time.com