The Last Letter

On March 14, 1955, Einstein completed his 76th year. He was adored and admired by all literate humanity as possibly no scientist before him, also admired for his human qualities, regarded as almost divine; but he was a lonesome man. Letters arrived daily at 112 Mercer Street in scores, from great men of the age and from humble ones; from politicians, scientists, and cranks. He liked to receive these letters. Einstein had experience with people who misused his replies and therefore he would keep copies of his answers, usually dictated to Miss Dukas, in the files. Only to very close people would he write by hand, and of these letters, too, Miss Dukas would occasionally then prepare typewritten copies for the records.

For his birthday letters came from all parts of the world, from royalty, academies, statesmen, scientists, the clergy, the military, artists, housewives, students and schoolchildren.

With a short note I sent him my Ages in Chaos, which he had not seen (it was published three years earlier) and Elisheva added that year a kiln-burnt ashtray which Margot chose for him out of several, just the littlest present, a thing hardly worth thanking for.

Many letters had Miss Dukas to write to royalty, to statesmen, and to the rest in reply to their good wishes, and she typed them. Einstein hardly wrote even a few of the acknowledgements by his own hand: it would have been an insurmountable task.

Three days after his birthday he wrote by hand one of his last letters, the last to me, or to us, since it was addressed to my wife and myself. He referred to his birthday as “unpropitious,” and how right he was. It was his last. “Soon the Devil will take me,” he once said to me; but deep down he was a religious man and in these words there was as if a confession of man’s sinful nature, in his calling Death by the name of the Devil. Although he was referring to the birthday as unproptious, he had many plans and much work to do—the low round table in his study often had papers with calculations by his hand, and his great and protracted effort to solve the problem of the unified field theory was still evading final solution.

The following translation into English is as close as the idioms of the two languages permit. He used “corns” for toes.


Dear Mr. and dear Mrs Velikovsky!

At the occasion of this unpropitious birthday you have presented me once more with the fruits of an almost eruptive productivity. I look forward with pleasure to reading the historical book that does not bring into danger the toes of my guild. How it stands with the toes of the other faculty, I do not know as yet. I think of the touching prayer: “Holy St. Florian, spare my house, put fire to others!”

I have already carefully read the first volume of the memoirs to “Worlds in Collision,” and have supplied it with a few marginal notes in pencil that can be easily erased. I admire your dramatic talent and also the art and strightforwardness of Thackrey who has compelled the roaring astronomical lion to pull in a little his royal tail without showing enough respect for the truth. I would be happy if you, too, could enjoy the whole episode from its funny side.

Unimaginable letter debts and unread manuscripts that were sent in force me to be brief. Thanks to both of you and friendly wishes,


A. Einstein

This letter, for the brevity of which he asked consideration, was written four weeks before his death. By then he had read for the third time my Worlds in Collision, and was looking forward with anticipation to reading my historical work, Ages in Chaos. His saying that he would enjoy the embarrassment to which my work would probably subject the historians while his own field would be left untrespassed, speaks for the difficulties he had lately experienced and for the thoughts during his waking hours in the dark of the night—his sleep was not good—provoked by our discussions in which I acted as if I were the advocate retained by two natural forces, electricity and magnetism, persistent in my calls and letters, unyielding, never retreating.