Albert Einstein is considered the father of modern physics, but he also mastered the artistry of words as evidenced in his personal letters.
Albert Einstein stands regarded as one of the most prominent scientists of all time. He received a Nobel Prize in Physics in 1921 for his work on Theoretical Physics, most importantly for his discovery of the law of the photoelectric effect, but he also had a very eloquent style of writing that proved his humanly sensitive and caring nature, and his constant quest for peace.
A Visual Thinker’s Writings
Einstein claimed to have thought visually rather than verbally, and his visions of peace and genuine care of humankind is evident in some of his personal letters. With constant social apprehension and lethally guarded privacy, these letters were written without thought of publication. Originally, some of the letters were written in German; they have since been translated. The others were written in English.
In 1933, Einstein responded to a letter he received from a presumably despondent, and out of work musician, a kindred spirit to Einstein, a violin and piano player himself. The letter written to Einstein has been lost, but it is the genius’s reply which proves his own lingering despair and infinite fight against the darkness of being different. Note the anonymity with which Einstein opens the reply:
I am the one to whom you wrote in care of the Belgian Academy… Read no newspapers, try to find a few friends who think as you do, read the wonderful writers of earlier times, Kant, Goethe, Lessing, and the classics of other lands, and enjoy the natural beauties of Munich’s surroundings. Make believe all the time that you are living, so to speak, on Mars among alien creatures and blot out any deeper interest in the actions of those creatures. Make friends with a few animals. Then you will become a cheerful man once more and nothing will be able to trouble you. Bear in mind that those who are finer and nobler are always alone-and necessarily so-and that because of this they can enjoy the purity of their own atmosphere.
I shake your hand in heartfelt comradeship, E.
Einstein was the greatest scientist in the world, but the world was such that he signed the letter with a solitary E, and not with his unmistakable signature.
Metaphor and Thoughts by Einstein
The following is a sentence from a letter that Einstein wrote on July 9, 1952, to Cornelius Lanczoz, a Hungarian mathematician and physicist. It shows the adept use of metaphoric imagery by the genius:
One is born into a herd of buffaloes and must be glad if one is not trampled underfoot before one’s time.
The following was translated from lines that were inscribed on an autographed picture of Einstein that he sent to his old friend Mrs. Cornelia Wolf in 1927:
Wherever I go and wherever I stay,
There’s always a picture of me on display.
On top of the desk, or out in the hall,
Tied round a neck, or hung on the wall.
Women and men, they play a strange game,
Asking, beseeching: “Please sign your name.”
From the erudite fellow they brook not a quibble,
But firmly insist on a piece of his scribble.
Sometimes, surrounded by all this good cheer,
I’m puzzled by some of the things that I hear,
And wonder, my mind for a moment not hazy,
If I and not they could really be crazy.
The last two lines of this poem are often used to quote Albert Einstein, but are generally used out of context from their entirety of this poem, therefore excluding his apparent resentment of his celebrity.
Another relevant sentence taken from one of Einstein’s letters to his biographer, Carl Seelig, written on October 25, 1953:
In the past, it never occurred to me that every casual remark of mine would be snatched up and recorded. Otherwise I would have crept further into my shell.
A Mind of his Own
Einstein’s birthday was March 14, 1879. Since he was notorious for the lack of concern for his attire, a fifth grade class of a New York elementary school sent him a letter and birthday presents consisting of a tie clasp and a set of cuff links for what would turn out to be his last birthday; he was 76. His reply to them is as follows:
I thank you all for the birthday gift you kindly sent me and for your letter of congratulation. Your gift will be an appropriate suggestion to be a little more elegant in the future than hitherto. Because neckties and cuffs exist for me only as remote memories.
Einstein died on April 18, 1955. The Nobel Prize winning genius, who dedicated his brain for scientific experiments, was truly human as evidenced by his earnest letter writing without the contemplation of a scientist, but as fellow human being.
- Einstein, Albert, Helen Dukas, and Banesh Hoffmann. Albert Einstein, the Human Side: New Glimpses from His Archives. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton UP, 1979. Print