The physicist’s missives to go under the hammer in London
London: Letters penned by Albert Einstein, which reveal his views on how to deal with Russia after the Second World War and which dismiss as “twaddle” the notion that his theories are hard to understand, will go under the hammer on October 16.
The sale, in London, will be watched carefully as a letter in which the scientist branded religious beliefs as “childish superstitions” and the “product of human weaknesses” — bid for unsuccessfully by the biologist Richard Dawkins who wanted it for his foundation — fetched a record £170,000 this May.
In this batch of letters Einstein shows himself to be quite a diplomat but withering towards “superficial journalists” who failed to understand his theories.
Einstein’s correspondent, the psychoanalyst Walter Marseille, had promoted the idea of a world government in a paper entitled A Method to Enforce World Peace, which he sent to the scientist and to the philosopher Bertrand Russell.
In correspondence to Marseille in 1948 Einstein wrote: “Better to let Russia see that there is nothing to be achieved by aggression but there are advantages in joining [a world government]: then the Russian regime’s attitude will probably change and they will take part without compulsion.”
In a later missive Einstein again advocated a diplomatic approach. “The attitude of the Russians, it seems to me, clearly shows that they are deeply concerned about the military-industrial situation, and that they would be prepared to make considerable concessions if some degree of relaxation was permitted.”
In a third letter he wrote: “In my view it is much better, both morally and practically, to attempt to bring about a state of affairs in which the Russians, out of pure self interest, find it preferable to give up their separatist position.”
Simon Luterbacher, who is handling the sale for Bloomsbury Auctions, said the four letters to Marseille offered a great insight into Einstein’s thoughts on world affairs. “I think Einstein was much more open to the suggestion that you could make a deal, or you could learn to live with what was the USSR,” he said.
Mr. Luterbacher said the letters to Marseille were not grandstanding by the great physicist. “He viewed them as private correspondence. They were not for global publicity so he’s just expressing his opinions.”
In one lot for the auction is a hand-written letter to Adrien Wils, a member of the public who wrote to Einstein criticising his “theory of relativity.” In the letter to Wils, which has never been in a public sale before, Einstein countered the idea that his theory could be equated with moral relativism. He wrote: “This topic has nothing to do with the superficial statement that ‘everything is relative’... this is, by the way, not a philosophical theory, but purely physical.” In the letter he chided journalists for failing to understand one of his greatest scientific achievements. “The twaddle that the theory is extremely difficult to understand is complete nonsense, spread out by superficial journalists.”
Speaking of the scientist’s communications, Harvey Brown, an Einstein biographer, said he must have had a huge postbag: “But I think he did make an effort to respond to as many as he could. He even wrote back to children.”
Mr. Luterbacher expects the Wils letter to sell for £6,000-£8,000, and the four Marseille letters to make up to £6,000.
In 2007 a letter from Einstein on world government went for $9,000. In 2006 a six-page scientific essay, plus a letter, by the physicist fetched £300,000. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2008
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