At McCarter Theater

A couple of weeks after my lecture before the Forum, it happened that at a concert at McCarter Theater in Princeton we met Einstein. It may be that he made up his mind to show a little of his change of heart in order to erase the impression of rejection he had left with me over a year earlier. During the intermission he stood up, greeted us from his seat a short distance away, and asked me to sit and chat with him. I took a temporarily vacant seat in the row in front of him, turning my head to hear him speak. There was something very unusual in this man. I am not a hero-worshipper, more nearly an iconoclast: great names do not startle me, nor do they make me feel humble. But in Einstein I felt this time something I had not felt on meeting him in Berlin, when he was a jolly man in his early forties who had achieved singular and spectacular success which was still new to him, and I was still in my twenties; nor when I spent time with him again in New York in the spring of 1940, nor when I visited him in the summer of 1946.

In 1921 he was a young-looking man with well-filled cheeks, warm and sparkling eyes, a forehead framed by dark and wavy hair, and a moustache over soft lips, with a ready laugh—almost the likeness of a bon-vivant. Epstein, who portrayed him several years later as flimsy, furrowed, and wiry, did not succeed at all. Now, thirty years later, at the age of seventy-four, the change in his appearance was very great. He had grown old, yet stood erect, with his grey-white hair, now long, falling on his collar. He had a kind face, and a clear and sonorous voice. Sufferings and private losses and human destiny had cleansed him and spiritualized him. He looked at me with kindness, and warmly pressed my hand with his own fleshy hand. The mattness of his face lighted up.

I reminded him of the Scripta on which we had worked together in Berlin. This made him wonder aloud on the mystery of time. Is time a stream flowing always in one direction from the present to the past? Do the present, future and the past all exist simultaneously? He wondered and asked me. Yet he brought counterargument to his own thought: but we cannot remember things that are in the future. This did not appear to me a valid argument, but I did not say so. Instead, I referred to Plato’s discourse on simultaneous existence of the past and the future. The field of parapsychology deals with such problems. Yes, once I wrote and published something on the subject, and Freud commented in a letter. Einstein asked me whether I still had Freud’s letters, and whether he could read one. I promised to select a letter for him to read. And we continued so, already old friends, when the bell called the audience into the hall. I returned to my seat.

I sent Einstein the letter of Freud that he wished to see. In that particular letter Freud wrote me, as usual by longhand, that he had similar, almost identical ideas, and that he would subscribe to the preface to my work written by Eugen Bleuler.

A single week passed. There was again a concert at McCarter Theater: Einstein hardly showed himself twice a year in public, but this time he came again. Again, during the intermission—he sat across the aisle—he asked me to take the vacant seat next to him. Some of the Princeton graduate students sat in the row in front of my wife, and she could hear them wondering at this fellowship: Einstein when in public was of course the center of attention, though the public tried to make this not too obvious. Einstein spoke of religion, and mentioned Spinoza, a spirit toward whom he probably felt affinity. Like himself, Spinoza was a lonely man; like himself he was not concerned with material goods; like himself he was in conflict with men, though he was kind and humane; and like himself he was deeply religious, though not in the church or synagogue, and it is no wonder, if one considers the great sufferings to which his mentor Uriel Acosta was subjected—one of the saddest chapters in the long story of the Jewish people. But Spinoza was an Aristotelian, without wishing to be so; the cold reason which insists on explaining away anything unusual or singular separated Aristotle from his teacher Plato, who tended to the esoteric, the wonderful, and the singular.

Not long thereafter my wife and I received an invitation to have tea with Einstein. The day before our visit I found in the mail a letter in which the writer, a resident of Seaford in England, wrote:

The “authorities” will object to your subversion of their life-work, but it is from their minor followers that the bitterest opposition will come. Those who exercise authority are not so shocked by rebellion as their underlings. They are doubly offended, for you threaten their security and insult their judgement. . . . The one Roman Catholic I would expect to sympathize with my doubts on infallibility would be His Holiness. It is the hedge-priest and Sunday School teacher who would cry “Blasphemy!”